Are you ready for a wild ride? (Photo: Famrust)

Being a first time CEO can be confusing, intimidating and downright scary.

You have a hundred things to do and no idea which way to look.  Email this person…. talk to that person.  Introduce yourself to another potential investor or partner.  There are so many different people to connect with, but it’s difficult to determine the ones you really should to spend your precious and limited time with.

You also need to deal with legal, financial, organizational, strategic and other parts of the company on a daily basis yet might not be fully comfortable with each area of the business.

You look in the mirror, shake your head and whisper “ha, I’m the CEO?”  Yes, you are and everything now rides on your shoulders.

The crazy thing with being a first time CEO is you really don’t know what you don’t know.

This is a blessing and a curse.  Blessing because if you were able to get a glimpse all the things you don’t understand you would probably turn and run for the door.  It’s a curse since there are quite a few important aspects of building a business which require keen awareness and solid judgment, which by definition rookies just don’t have.

It is at this stage where we lean on others who have gone before us to help give perspective and a nudge in the right direction.  I don’t pretend to know these things since I too am “technically” a first time CEO and on the constant lookout for helpful mentors. [I say technically because my first startup was a failed attempted at a bootstrapped startup. We didn't even get to seed stage so although I grew through it, it really wasn't much more than a warm-up.  It's safe to say I am now entering the open seas with only my compass in my hand].

So how do you keep your sanity amongst all this madness?  I reached out polled a few fellow young founders and asked them to give some thoughts on the matter.

Phillip Estrada Reichen, CEO of LocalUncle

Estrada Reichen

Maintaining focus is all about saying “NO.” Sounds easy in theory, but in practice it’s harder than most people think. Saying NO means leaving out product features that you’ve been dreaming about because you have to hit a certain deadline. It means saying NO to reading everything that is being written/said about your industry and accepting the fact that you’ll have to maneuver the best you can with the limited information that you have.

Saying NO also means not working on your other five great ideas and keep executing just this one thing that you chose to do at this point in time. Even when you hit your lowest lows (oh, and you will hit them) and you’ll want to throw everything away, saying NO means not giving up and stick to your initial idea.

In order to stay sane and not be overwhelmed and burn out you need to get off the grid regularly. Exit the Matrix. Don’t do anything work related. This is especially hard if you work in mobile/web because you can work from anywhere at anytime. Go running in the park without iPod or iPhone (no music allowed! just listen to the “real,” offline world for a couple of minutes).

Get home after work and do not go online till the next day. Read a book, cook a meal or draw a painting. No matter how much work there needs to be done, you have to have non-electronic, non-work related hobbies or activities like that to stay healthy and balanced. 

Chris Lynch, CEO of Thoughtful.co

Lynch

A friend of mine said it best: a startup is a marathon, not a sprint. Know where you’re going, and then tell yourself it’s going to be hard. But even then, know it will be more difficult than you imagined. That being said, I’ve noticed that people deal with stress in a number of ways, but there is a common trait among CEOs in startups that always is true: they can take a lot of stress and keep pushing forward. In some ways it doesn’t surprise me, because a startup is a Herculean task.

Great advice from emerging leaders in their respective industries.  I will provide four strong points to consider and add my perspective for trying to stop the insanity.

Movement

Philip alluded to this one and I strongly concur – getting off the grid and back into the physical world is probably the best way to stay sane.  Get outside [or on the treadmill] and get some movement.

Expending energy is the best way to decompress and release all the pent up tightness within your body.  Basically, when we sit at a desk in front of our screens all day long our bodies are placed under continual stress.  This stress, if not released in a healthy manner, constantly builds up and will cause us to crack under pressure.

If you are feel like you have “had it up to here” and just need a break, you are burned out and need to start moving more often.  I mean every day.  Go on walks, hikes, run, play a recreation sport, unplug… whatever you do, get away from the office and just do it.  Your body and mind will be so much clearer when you return.

Prioritize

Hughes

As I stated before, most CEO’s just feel overwhelmed.  It helps if you can list out the top 3 things you need to get done each day, and only focus on those things.  I mean don’t think about any other task.  Only when you accomplish those top 3 things should you move on to doing anything else.

How do you determine the top 3?  Look at the overall direction of your company, determine what is mission critical and what YOU, THE LEADER, can only do and go do it.

Then delegate the rest.  Try this for a week and see what happens.  I guarantee you will feel like you are doing less yet more seems to be getting done.  Amazing.

Socialize

Getting out and connecting with people [should be] a CEO’s main objective.  Why?  Since they generally are the face of the company and it is up to the leader to fill out the team, socializing connect you with more people quite frankly, it just comes with the CEO territory.  The side effect of socializing is you will start to learn more about how people work, how they think, and whom you would like to eventually join your team.

Being social also releases chemicals called endorphins, which are required to carry out natural processes within your metabolic system.  Interestingly, if you lack adequate amount of social interaction your body will start shutting down.

That might sound a bit drastic, but the premise is still true – we all need social interactions to maintain our sanity.  Get out and have some fun every once in a while.

Mentorship

First time CEO’s have it tough: we lack the foresight to understand what is in front of us at the same time lacking the hindsight of lessons learned from a previous experience to help us make better decisions.

Amazingly, there are individuals who have gone and done it before and look to pay it forward by mentoring young leaders in their field.  If you are a first time CEO and serious about moving forward in your life, you must go find someone willing to give you some of their time.

Ask them questions, detailed and specific questions related to your unique situation and then shut up.  Just sit and listen.  Record the conversation if possible.  Then check in with them every few weeks or month and provide them some context of how you are using their lessons to positively influence your life.

Oh, and one last thing: if you respect someone’s time, they will give you more… if you disrespect their time, they will never give you another minute.

Now, stop the insanity.

Nick Hughes is the newly-appointed CEO of Seattle startup Order.sm. You can read his blog, So Entrepreneurial, hereFollow him on Twitter @jnickhughes.

Also by Nick Hughes:

Comments

  • Dave

    Great perspective. It is amazingly difficult to get input from others outside of your company without losing focus on what you really do. I’d also suggest that a new CEO remember that their new position will make it much more important that they seek feedback from their teams and work really hard to get candid feedback–many times listening more than talking. People assume the boss is always right and it can be difficult to get real, candid opinions from people who report up to the CEO. 

Job Listings on GeekWork