CEO Coaching: Frustration Is Normal

Many words can describe successful CEOs: smart, aggressive, resilient, etc. So why is “frustrated” one of a CEO’s normal states?

First, it’s all those people around you! People come in many models with poorly written instruction manuals. Different things motivate them. They have different skills. And they must work together! This creates the wonderful puzzle about leading people, and it’s not easy. The further up the management ladder you climb, the more challenged you are with getting others to align their activities and play nice!

Second, your job is extremely complex. Thousands of individual activities must go well for you to hit budget, and they should all flow from the big ideas that drive your company—like purpose, vision, and strategy. All those activities must be in sync for the machine to run! One poorly executed activity can shut down the whole thing.

Third, you don’t swim in calm waters. Competitors want to take you down. Unpredictable storms pop up. Customer desires change over time. Even with brilliant planning, stuff happens!

Last, you’re human! People think you’re an unending reservoir of wisdom and energy with perfect answers! You got where you are because you’re skilled at controlling things and forecasting correctly. Frustration is largely caused by your temporary inability to predict and control. 

Although some frustration is inevitable, you need a plan to tame your frustration—and there are several things you can control. 

1.     Find someone to help you think this through. You probably have more options than you are aware of. Although you may need to own some things as an individual, you have options for gathering counsel and seeking advisors.

2.     Develop a highly effective “operating system” to decrease variability and frustration. As the saying goes, “hope is not a plan.” You can avoid much frustration with disciplined thought and planning.

3.     Change the ideas that govern your business. It’s difficult, but if your culture is frustrating, change it; if your vision is unattainable, change it; if your strategy isn’t producing the results you need, change it. Frustration is an indication that something should change.

4.     Change the people you have in the bus with you. If you don’t have the right team, you won’t make the playoffs, let alone win the big game. 

5.     Own and fix your weaknesses. Frustration is often tied to weaknesses, which are usually within our ability to improve. The problem may not be “out there” but rather inside you.

6.     Change your perspective. Perhaps your “problems” aren’t material. Perhaps you can view them as opportunities for improvement.

When I work with CEOs, we strive to minimize their frustration. Is some of it normal? Absolutely! Should you just live with a lot of it? HELL NO! Your people deserve joy in their lives and so do you! If your frustration is at a level above a slow simmer, do something about it!