Everyone comes up against challenges in both their professional and personal lives. But, while it’s all too easy to believe that executives at the top of their game do not, I know from experience that they face more than their fair share of difficulties.
If offering a listening ear to high-level leaders has taught me anything, it’s that stress, pressure, and loneliness are endemic at the top. However, there are ways for even the most high-powered CEOs to deal with that pressure. The best part is that they don’t have to compromise their all-important work-life balance to do it. Here’s how:
Providing psychological safety
I’ve come to learn that there’s one thing in particular that causes people at all levels difficulty: a refusal to allow mistakes. While it is good (and necessary) to have high standards for yourself when you work at the very top of a business, not allowing for any mistakes does nothing but pile on pressure.
The stress this can cause has the potential to cause significant distress, both within work and beyond. By instead looking at mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow, executives can provide themselves and their employees with invaluable psychological safety.
Dedicating time to reflection
Strategic thinking plays a big part in the role of any executive. But, while it is second nature for leaders to employ it in high-level decision-making, it is rarely used in self-reflection. So, I very often recommend to my clients that they set time aside to reflect on where they are, where they want to go, and how they want to get there.
This might sound like an unnecessary use of valuable time. But, actually, this sort of strategic reflection can bring with it emotional benefits that improve the “life” aspect of work-life balance, and contribute to improved performance at work, too.
Focusing on development
Similarly, all executives must commit themselves to constantly learning and developing. In some cases, I find that high-level leaders think they’ve reached their peak and they’re happy to stay there. However, that sort of stagnation will make it that much harder to tackle unexpected obstacles when they come up.
Development can be done actively in your free time if that’s something you genuinely enjoy. If not, though, you can preserve your work-life balance by seeking out and acting on feedback and making the most of any new opportunities your career presents you with.
Creating opportunities for employees
No corporation is a one-man show, and no executive should see themselves as the backbone of theirs. In reality, a company is like a jigsaw puzzle, and every single employee is a valuable piece.
So, to overcome challenges, employees must be allowed to work towards improving things themselves. Not only will this make the enterprise itself run better and more cohesively, but it will also ease up the pressure many executives feel.
Developing trust-based relationships
In order to overcome challenges as a collective whole, it will be necessary for executives to build trust-based relationships with their team and the company’s stakeholders. With trust comes an improved ability to work towards solutions together. And, with a whole team of people working together on a problem, more time can be freed up for the people at the top.
This isn’t something that can easily happen as the result of a concerted effort. So, business leaders should be encouraged to develop trust from the moment they start with their company.
Enabling resources for progress
With trust comes confidence, and when executives have the confidence of the people around them, they can do great things. However, there will still inevitably be challenging times. So, leaders should be prepared to enable resources for their teams to deliver strategic solutions.
This is a great way to go about overcoming challenges, because it doesn’t put all of the expectation for problem-solving on the person with the most sway. Instead, it is their job to create more opportunity for those lower down, meaning the responsibility to make positive change becomes a collective one.
More than anything else, I would say that showing humanity is the key to overcoming challenges in business.
Without creating an environment where care, empathy, and understanding are paramount, there’s no way that executives can provide the sort of psychological safety required for optimum performance. Similarly, progress, reflection, and trust inevitably have to take a back seat in that sort of workplace.
The secret to overcoming challenges as an executive
Ultimately, difficulties cannot be surmounted without mutual effort and a positive working environment. Or, if they can, chances are that a great deal of time will be taken up for one person at the very top, which could be better spent on personal fulfilment and professional development.
About the author
Simona Spilak is an executive coach to world-class leaders who need a coach and confidant to help them successfully navigate their world of responsibilities, opportunities and high stakes decision making.
She has more than 20 years’ experience working in the corporate world at a senior level and began her own entrepreneurial journey in 2016. Now she spends her time running an executive search firm in the CEE region and providing executive coaching services to C-suite leaders and executives, a business which she built from scratch.
Her insights on how top leaders can navigate their careers and the far-reaching consequences of their decisions – at work and at home – have been featured in various business magazines and podcasts for leaders and entrepreneurs. Simona helps powerful business leaders and executives make a big impact in both their organisation and community, without compromising their personal values or their confidentiality.
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As a working mother with a full-on career that involves an hour and half commute each way every day, striking a healthy work/life balance has always been a challenge. This became even more apparent when the pandemic hit and my world got turned upside down with home schooling and the removal of childcare support. However, I am very lucky to work for a supportive and forward-thinking company.
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