It's tough at the top

By Barry Knight

Loneliness is an issue for managers.
Photo / Supplied
Loneliness is an issue for managers. Photo / Supplied

The ambition of many in professional careers is to rise to the role of managing director, CEO, or another such senior position.

Driven by the challenge and the desire to be successful, aspirants also look for status, prestige and sometimes power. For others the financial reward is the prime motivator. The person on the street sees only the trappings of success - the top-of-the-range vehicle, designer suits, executive home, boat - the list goes on.

What is rarely talked about is the downside of such success. The reality of an executive role is that the average working week is between 55 and 70 hours. It means catching the first flight out in the morning and the last flight home at night.

The amount of time spent alone in strange cities, combined with the long and stressful working hours impact home, family and personal life. Personal interests get pushed to last in the priority queue.

Loneliness can be a constant companion of the executive who, because of the fast-moving lifestyle, has a smaller network of close friends. Developing new and true friends can prove difficult.

Often executives find it difficult socially being in the spotlight. Being constantly asked about the company, his/her position on an issue or hearing the grizzles about the share price and company performance can be tiresome.

Frequently there is no one to share concerns or worries with, particularly when the time comes to make tough decisions or calls which impact significantly on people - or even to share success with. While both can be shared to a certain extent with the board, subordinates, colleagues, staff members and family, there are limitations.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to surround myself with peers who understand the pressures at an executive level. I have done this in a semi-formal environment through The Executive Connection (TEC).

Our monthly meetings represent an opportunity to discuss business problems with other CEOs who know the challenges of the role, and we can discuss the "undiscussable" in confidence.

Another positive for the senior executive is the emphasis on "leadership" as opposed to the old "command control" management style.

There is a realisation that leaders do not have to be workaholics.

Leaders are now permitted to place greater emphasis on home and family as personal priorities are being put back into perspective.

Home, family, leisure, diet and fitness are now part of the daily plan rather than being fitted in or around business. Balance in all things is the ideal for today's executive.

It has been said that success in life is dependent upon one's willingness to risk failure.

The personal sacrifice and self discipline required to be a top executive is something that is often glossed over in the trappings of success or title.

For senior executives to continue to perform well and deliver positive results for shareholders and the employees who are dependent upon them, they must be self aware and address some of the challenges that come with their role.

Barry Knight is an experienced senior executive based in Christchurch. He is also a chairman of The Executive Connection (TEC) www.tecnz.net.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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