Running a business is...well, let's just say it's a little easier than running away from a rabid dinosaur over a pool of slippery Jello. It is work, and anxiety and CEOs tend to be unfortunate bedfellows. The response to all that worry and anxiety, however, is surprisingly positive, according to a new survey from investment firm Norwest Venture Partners.
What leaders are most afraid of
According to Norwest's survey, a whopping 90 percent of CEOs admitted that, more than anything else, their fear of failure keeps them up at night. But CEOs also indicated they're worried about revenue growth (49 percent), raising capital (49 percent), maintaining work-life balance (46 percent). They also wish they had greater expertise in both hard and soft skills, particularly operations (53 percent) and public speaking (37 percent).
"The CEO job is intense and often unpredictable," acknowledges Katie Belding, Partner, Marketing and Portfolio Services for Norwest. "The pace can be relentless. Also, leadership makes us vulnerable; you're in the hot seat with a lot at stake. [...] Burnout is a real issue."
The silver lining
While it is distressing just how many CEOs deal with these heavy issues, the Norwest survey also revealed that today's CEOs are making mental and general health a huge priority, no matter how much work they might have on their agendas. The study found that
- 71 percent of surveyed CEOs get more than 6 hours or more of sleep every night
- 60 percent exercise multiple times a week, with about half meeting with a personal trainer
- 32 percent work with a wellness coach
These trends are positive and notable because physical wellness has a direct influence on both emotions (which can impact your interactions on the job and at home) and cognitive performance (which can impact your ability to innovate and compete).
But also significant--perhaps even more than the physical trends--are these findings:
- 32 percent consult with an executive coach
- 22 percent see a therapist
- 93 percent socialize with other CEOs/founders a few times a month or more; 27 percent do so multiple times a week
These findings are important in the context of previous studies, which have concluded that relationships and interaction is incredibly beneficial to wellbeing. People with great support networks have been found to do better, experiencing benefits like lower blood pressure, increased longevity and improved disease resistance.
Belding acknowledges the trend for CEOs to be reaching out more.
"Over the last few years, we've seen a stronger emphasis in peer-to-peer networking and the need for support systems among CEOs," Belding says. "We think it's valuable for CEOs to meet face to face with their peers, discuss issues that are top of mind, and share best practices. In addition to this, working with an executive coach can help a CEO deal with the daily challenges of scaling a company and growing as a leader."
"It's important for entrepreneurs to have a solid support network throughout the lifecycle of their company--everything from the talent they hire to trusted coaches and choosing investors who have the experience and programs in place to help CEOs succeed."
Belding adds that, when CEOs focus on their wellness, they're better able to reach higher productivity levels. They also set a positive example for their business.
"It isn't surprising that CEOs have moments of fear along the way," Belding concludes, "because leading a company involves significant courage and risk. We were encouraged to see that CEOs are recognizing their fears and demonstrating this self-awareness."
Norwest's survey makes it abundantly clear that the traditional "tough it out alone" mantra is woefully outdated and impractical given the garbage most leaders get thrown at them every day. It's OK--and arguably much healthier--to adopt a "talk it out" mantra and engage in some real self-care instead. Other CEOs do know what you're going through, and they're already setting the precedent to erase the stigma associated with personal need. Whatever you're anxious about, whatever your body is asking you for, acknowledge it. Rejuvenate and connect. Then come back in stronger than ever.