As I approach my 43rd birthday, I’m reflecting on my life, career, and future. I am grateful for every opportunity I’ve been given to make an impact. As I move towards mid-life, I am inspired and compelled to help aspiring leaders become exceptional themselves. I’m also enjoying mentoring some amazing women who also want to change the world.
Recently, one of them asked me, “What do you wish you knew before becoming a CEO?”
Great question. And as I thought through my answers, I realized the advice I would give myself then is the same advice I give myself now! They are as relevant now as they were almost 15 years ago when I started this journey.
Here are the five things I wish I knew before becoming a CEO:
1. Self-care is a discipline, not a luxury. I must take care of myself if I expect myself to lead well and be responsible for the livelihood of others. I learned this lesson the hard way when I burned out from living an unhealthy lifestyle of over-exercising, substance abuse, and too little sleep.
My advice to you: put your health and well-being first. When you are at your best, you can give your best to others. Don’t skimp on self-care.
2. WAIT: Why Am I Talking? I talk way too much, and I had to force myself to stop to become a better listener. Since keeping quiet more often, I have learned more about myself and others than I could imagine. In my early career, I once had a boss tell me, “Are you done talking? OK, good. Now I can give you the actual story, so you really know what you are talking about.” Ouch!
My advice to you: keep your tongue in the bottom of your mouth. It’s tough to talk when your tongue can’t move. And instead of chiming in when asked your thoughts, say, “I want to hear what you think first.”
3. Having children will make your life so much better – and harder. I spent most of my life thinking I never wanted children. In fact, when I was 24, I asked my doctor if she would tie my tubes that year. She unequivocally said no. What a mistake this would have been. My son Jack has taught me more about what it means to connect to other humans and loving unconditionally than I ever thought imaginable. Even though he woke me up almost every night for seven years, and I was always sleep-deprived, I loved every minute of it. It’s hard to be a good mom and a good CEO, but it’s worth the effort.
My advice to you: never put work before your children. Your time with them is too precious, and they will teach you more about being an exceptional leader than any job, employee, or boss.
4. Say no more often. I used to say yes to every opportunity that came my way. I volunteered, sat on boards, mentored people in my community, and had dinner with anyone who invited me. While I learned a lot from these experiences, I also had no free time to think, rest, and read. When I had Jack, I decided to cut everything not related to StoneAge or being a mom out of my schedule. It was profound. I had time to learn how to be a mom, read more books, and be a good wife. I had space to cry when I thought I was failing and time to think about growing StoneAge.
My advice to you: No is a complete sentence and it’s okay to set boundaries around your time and energy. Choose what’s most important to you and say no to everything else.
5. Get a coach. I began working with a coach about ten years ago, and it was life-changing. It’s hard to get honest, real-time feedback as a CEO and coaches can provide that. I have learned much about myself by working with a coach: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. They’ve helped me see how to embrace all of it to be the best version of myself. And they hold me accountable for being an exceptional leader.
My advice to you: explore what coaching can do for you. Interview several coaches to learn what style fits you best. Ask your company to invest in a short-term coaching engagement such as six months. If they say no, find a way to make it happen yourself. You will be amazed at what you learn about yourself and how they can support you as you go after your dreams.
It’s been a wild ride, this leadership journey, and even though it’s challenging, and the weight of responsibility can feel oppressive at times, I wouldn’t change a thing. And this exercise was an excellent reminder to keep what’s most important front and center.
Like this: Check out my blog on the five things I learned while leading through a crisis.