Not everyone is cut out to be a CEO. It's a hard job and there are a handful of characteristics you must have in order to make it in such a position, most of which are pretty obvious. You need to be smart. You need to be a good leader and a team player. You need to be mature, responsible, efficient, hard-working. You get the idea.

Those characteristics are great, and they are certainly necessary--but they're not sufficient. I think there is one characteristic, one which many people tend to gloss over, that is truly required for a CEO's day-to-day life: a high tolerance for pain.

Being a CEO is not for the faint-hearted.

Creating a company is a bit like having a child. This thing becomes a part of your life and you care for it immensely. When something bad happens to your company, it can--and will--hurt you emotionally. It will cause you pain. These things are guaranteed to happen, but it's how you deal with them that will make or break your company.

A successful CEO needs to be prepared for these moments and be able to respond rationally, instead of just reacting to the pain. Here are a few common painful moments that happen to every CEO. I have lived through almost every one:

  • Losing large amounts of revenue

  • Losing valuable employees

  • Working 100+ hours a week

  • Being told you're doing things wrong

  • Being told you're not qualified to do what you're doing

  • Receiving flack from clients and other organizations

  • Legal battles

  • Having parts of your company taken away from you

  • Having parts of your company changed in ways you don't like

  • Receiving hate mail from past employees

  • Being cash poor

Any one of these situations could be enough to make a person call in sick, hit the bar, or lie in bed all day. I guarantee you that every successful CEO has gone through at least one, if not all of these situations.

The ones that can't handle the pain? Well, you've never heard of them because their company failed. Just being honest here.

Elon Musk was virtually broke in 2010, but instead of selling his shares to make ends meet--and relieve the pain--he held onto them and ended up better off because of it.

Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985. He was removed from his own company! That alone would be enough to make most people just give up entirely. But he went on to build up Pixar and then rejoin Apple, making it better than ever.

Turning the pain into motivation.

Having a high pain tolerance means you won't get bogged down in the emotional aspects of these problems. If you can look at them with a logical, rational mindset, you will be able to turn that pain into something productive.

If there's one constant in the examples of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, it's that they were able to use painful turning points as motivation to improve. Some would even argue those moments were necessary for them to be as successful as they became.

There are many ways to do this, and you don't have to be ousted from your company or go bankrupt to see it in your own life.

If you've lost a valuable employee, look at what made them valuable and 1) train your current employees to do the same and 2) find a replacement that has the same attributes and more. If you're being told you're not qualified or you're doing things wrong, ask those people what they'd do differently. Not only will you come off as sensible and approachable, but they may actually have some good advice.

In a legal battle? Learn from it and make sure it doesn't happen again. Prepare yourself and your company for anything that may pop up in the future. Getting hate mail from a past employee? Well, now you know what to avoid in a potential new hire. Just finished your first 100+ hour week? Figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

Is this you?

In many businesses, problems arise when the founder is forced to step into the role of CEO. If you're not cut out for it, the company--this child-like thing that you've been fostering for so long--can come crashing down.

The question to ask yourself, as the founder, is, Are you that person?

If not, that's fine. In the life of any company, it's important to make this decision at some point. Would you be better off handing the CEO role to someone else? Someone that might be able to handle the pain a bit better than you?

If that's the case, at least you now know what to look for in your perfect CEO.

Published on: May 18, 2018
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