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Trials of Being a CEO – How NOT to do it

With great power, comes great stress. We’ve all had bad days at work but, when the problems escalate, the buck stops with the lucky old CEO. So, I wondered how many business leaders would relate to the description below in one way or another and thought I would offer some sage advice on how to avoid this day from hell ever becoming your reality.

Day in the lift of Richard Pepler
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 It’s 3.00am and I’m awake. Let’s be honest, I was hoping it was Sunday but I swiftly realise, with a grimace, that it’s Monday.

Opening my laptop, I start the week by responding to one of our COO’s emails and then settle down to draft the latest business report.

[STOP! If you can’t sleep, don’t get your laptop out. It is well documented that staring at a computer or phone screen interrupts your natural sleep cycles, encouraging your brain to be alert. A good night’s sleep is vitally important to your physical health, brain function and performance at work. Don’t give up on sleep. There are numerous tactics you can use to encourage relaxation and sleep: Meditation, story tapes, reading a book, breathing exercises – find the one that suits you best – hint, whisky is probably not one of them!]

I’m surprised to hear a ‘ping!’; the COO has responded to the email, she’s just going to bed…

[STOP! If you become aware of staff working unhealthy hours, whether this is spending too long in the office or working into the early hours at home, it is time for an intervention. This suggests there is a problem that needs addressing, whether it is that they have too much work or they are not effectively managing the work they have.]

By 6.45am, I’m dressed and working out the strategy for the sales team over my breakfast (two indigestion tablets). After making an about-turn to collect the keys, I leave for the office for the second time.

[STOP! Eat a proper breakfast, it will significantly improve your effectiveness through the morning and give you the energy you need to run your business effectively.]

I arrive at 7.30am to find that the cleaner hasn’t been, once again. I hoover the office and empty the bins.

[STOP! Do not get dragged into tasks which should not involve you. The CEO is not employed to clean the office, fix computer issues, chase up stationery suppliers. It is easy to get sucked into doing such tasks which are not good use of your time and create a distraction from more important work. Ensure you always delegate such jobs to the appropriate staff.]

Between 8.30am and 9.30am, I receive 11 phone calls: eight of my team are off sick and three of my clients want urgent meetings with me that day. I call the COO to explain how to run the company on her own. I then call my investors to explain why the COO has resigned.

[STOP! Manage the situation: if lots of people are off sick, ensure that for each person off sick, there is someone else familiar with their accounts and can pick up the slack. Assuming the sick staff are able to, ask them to phone in and provide a proper handover so their work does not simply get dropped. Make sure your HR or office manager is keeping an accurate log of sickness, it can be an indicator of other staff or management issues that might need to be addressed.]

Later on that morning, I come to the realisation that all the client managers have annual leave in the same week in July. Having finally plucked up the courage, I kindly request the client managers to alter their plans. This request is instantaneously (surprisingly?) met with some unpleasant remarks.

[STOP! Introduce clearly stated limits and a strict holiday booking policy and system for how many people can take annual leave at the same time to prevent this situation arising.]

At 1.00pm, I sit down to eat my lunch. At 1.01pm, I put my lunch away.

At 2.00pm, the server breaks down, followed swiftly by the finance director. I fix the server with sticky tape but this doesn’t work as well on the finance director. I panic and offer the finance director a pay increase. The situation is resolved. Phew.

[STOP! As stated above, don’t find yourself stepping in on tasks that shouldn’t fall to you – and don’t make snap decisions in response to staff complaints. Talk to staff to find solutions, don’t simply throw more money at them.]

Half an hour later, the COO is threatening to resign (again); she started three days before the finance director. I email the shareholders about the all-around salary increases.

[STOP! See above.]

The IT Funding Platform crashes at 4 pm. By 5 pm, the engineers have traced the problem to the server error. I surreptitiously remove the sticky tape…

At 5pm, I lock up the office and drive 60 miles to meet a prospective new client. By 7 pm, as I sit with a fixed smile on my face, it’s apparent that the new client has forgotten about the meeting and gone home.

[STOP! Learn when to say no. Keep your client meetings within normal office hours. This is perfectly compatible with offering great client service. Consider what executive assistant support you need to enable you to focus on the job in hand, diary management, booking and confirming meetings don’t have to always be done by you.]

 I arrive home at 9 pm. I’ve missed dinner. I open both a bottle of wine and my laptop, and I start working on the month-end reports.

At 12.56am, I fall into bed. At 2.55am, a nightmare wakes me; I was being chased by a role of sticky tape. I manage to fall asleep again quite quickly, huzzah! And three minutes later, my alarm goes off.

Ping! Another email from the COO. She’s just going to bed…

[STOP! If you cannot bear to leave your mobile phone outside the bedroom, at least put it on silent during the night to ensure you can sleep… And just perhaps, start looking for a new COO.]


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