Being a member of the leadership team is one of the most challenging, demanding roles because these people carry the weight of a workplace on their shoulders every day. From ensuring the company's financial health to managing employees, they must be strategic thinkers, problem-solvers and visionary leaders.
It's no secret that being a leader can often be a lonely job, and it requires a high level of resilience, emotional intelligence and grit. During a recent discovery call with a CFO, I was amazed at how raw and honest he was about the gravity of the stress he felt and how troubled he felt knowing that the members of his team were struggling.
We ended up discussing four management areas that many of my clients worry about: the company's financial position, employee engagement and retention, implementing innovation to scale and external stakeholders.
One of the main challenges leaders face is ensuring their company is profitable and grows over time. This can be a daunting task, especially when the economy is unstable and market conditions are uncertain. Managing these challenges requires the ability to identify potential financial risks and take action to mitigate them. On the flip side, leaders should see and capitalize on opportunities for growth. They must also be able to communicate financial information effectively to shareholders, investors and other stakeholders. I can't count how many of my meetings with executives center around what needs to be built from a reporting perspective to meet the requests of the board.
Managing employees is another significant challenge for executives. In my call with the CFO, he discussed how, over the course of one week, a large percentage of his employees were so overwhelmed by their workload that they cried in the office. He felt horrible knowing that the systems in place weren't providing the support they needed.
Leaders are responsible for creating a positive work environment that fosters productivity, creativity and innovation. This can be a challenging task, especially when employees have different personalities, work styles and goals. So executives must be able to communicate effectively with employees, offer guidance and support when needed and promote accountability. They must also manage conflicts and ensure employees feel valued and supported.
Members of the C-suite constantly have to navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology and innovation, including anticipating future trends and investing in the right technology to stay competitive. But it's challenging to determine which ones will have the most significant impact on the company's bottom line. So leaders must be able to make strategic decisions and be willing to take risks and experiment with new ideas. This means getting employee buy-in and ensuring there's a willingness to invest time in learning new systems.
Finally, the C-suite must be able to build strong external partnerships with suppliers, customers and other stakeholders to ensure the company's operations run smoothly. They must also be able to negotiate effectively, manage contracts and maintain a positive public image. This is especially crucial when dealing with competitors, regulators and other external forces that carry a significant impact.
When facing those four areas of responsibility as a member of the C-suite, you may feel like it's impossible to keep them all in focus. With these strategies, you can find ways to divide your attention without taking away from your impact.
• Choose the right internal partners to support your organization's initiatives. Be present so you have a direct line of sight into how your team is currently staffed. Strategies include setting clear goals, having regular check-ins, observing behaviors, asking for feedback and evaluating results. When leadership is hard to connect with, it's difficult to build a relationship that fosters meeting mutual needs.
• Be open with your team. Don’t gatekeep information that will help your team understand the decisions being made within the organization. Often, team members tell me that leadership isn’t willing to listen or implement ideas, but the complete truth is there are other projects or requirements that take priority. Creating and fostering an environment where this information is shared and employees are aware of the company's direction is paramount for having a mutually beneficial working relationship.
• Advocate for your team. It's important to remember that, at the end of the day, all external stakeholders have their own objectives that they're trying to reach. But your obligations to these individuals don’t negate your obligations to your team. While many incentives lay in the hands of the external parties, it's the work done by your internal teams that support achieving those requirements. Never lose sight of this when managing demands top-down.
• Incorporate sufficient time to manage your personal well-being. The demands of the job can be overwhelming, and leaders must be able to maintain a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout. Outside of work, prioritize your mental and physical health, and make time for activities that help you recharge and stay motivated. At work, find ways to manage stress levels and, where possible, lean on colleagues to better balance the levels of responsibility.
When I closed my meeting with the CFO, he thanked me for the “therapy session” because he'd felt like he was on his own and unable to tell anyone that he was struggling. As leaders, it's easy to feel like you're trying to keep a bunch of spinning plates in the air. But with these strategies, you can get a better handle on this delicate balancing act.