Taking it personally and not doing it enough

Ben Horowitz has shared some phenomenal posts on leadership over the years. A teammate reminded me of a post that I consider one of the best of the lot today- “What’s The Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology.”

As he outlines the unique challenges of leading a company – tough job, nobody to blame, too much broken, lonely – he shares a powerful note on one of two mistakes he sees CEOs make.

“1. They take things too personally

2. They do not take things personally enough

In the first scenario, the CEO takes every issue incredibly seriously and personally and urgently moves to fix it. Given the volume of the issues, this motion usually results in one of two scenarios. If the CEO is outwardly focused, she ends up terrorizing the team to the point where nobody wants to work at the company any more. If the CEO is inwardly focused, she ends up feeling so sick from all of the problems that she can barely make it to work in the morning.

In the second scenario, in order to dampen the pain of the rolling disaster that is the company, the CEO takes a Pollyannaish attitude: it’s not so bad. In this view, none of the problems are actually that bad and they needn’t be dealt with urgently. By rationalizing away the issues, the CEO feels better about herself. The problem is that she doesn’t actually fix any of the problems and the employees eventually become quite frustrated that the Chief Executive keeps ignoring the most basic problems and conflicts. Ultimately, the company turns to crap.

Ideally, the CEO will be urgent yet not insane. She will move aggressively and decisively without feeling emotionally culpable. If she can separate the importance of the issues from how she feels about them, she will avoid demonizing her employees or herself.”

This is powerful because this isn’t just applicable to leading a company. It works just as well in our own lives too. Learning to care enough about the problems to give it our best without emotionally attaching ourselves to the outcome turns out to be the wisest way forward.