What are you avoiding looking at?
I love asking founders these questions. I don't believe I get a real answer until I've spent more time with them, sometimes until about a year or so into the relationship. Suddenly something happens and they open up.
Here are some of the most common issues I see that founders are hesitant to address or talk about with their VC:
- the job is all-consuming and their life is on hold
- all areas outside of work (especially: fitness, love life, family life) are neglected
- worries about how they're viewed by others; doubts and insecurities; wondering how they come across in one-on-ones, in small groups, at board level; worrying about their relationship with board members/VCs, management team
- in general, founder and management team troubles; how much value they're adding; whether they are respected, feared, resented
- they have creative ideas for the business but are shackled by the need to focus on shareholder value, the expectations of board/VCs
- immense time pressure until next capital raise to show traction/"make it" as CEO
- being increasingly and sometimes overly concerned with image/media/PR
- figuring out the best use of their time / not constantly getting sucked into activities
- wanting to change company culture, but unsure how
- worrying that they're not using technology well (especially social media)
- comparing themselves to others in similar positions - how are they holding up?
- whether they're dealing well with underperforming employees
- lacking people skills/EQ and wondering about how it's affecting their leadership
At some level, these are very common worries for anyone in a position of responsibility. And all these concerns are connected: life is rushing by in a blur, you're completed exhausted and, contrary to expectations, you're not very happy. At some point it's perfectly legitimate to ask: is this worth it?
Step one is to list the items that you're ignoring/not facing with perfect openness and honesty. At least be honest with yourself!
Step two is finding someone to talk to. No matter who you are in the organization - you need a peer, a mentor, a confidante or a coach whom you can trust. Most importantly: this person shouldn't tell you what to do. The world is full of those who think they know what's right for us. But this is a process to help you figure out what's right for you, and not anyone else. So best to get someone less left-brained, with higher EQ and more likely to listen and ask, rather than rush to tell.
Step three is asking yourself the big, million dollar question: what's life all about for you? If you're answering that question completely out of sync with how you're living it, it's time to make a few changes. Most people don't ask "do I want this job"; they ask, "how do I cope?" Gaining the awareness to ask the first question will help in answering the second.
True, powerful leadership emerges once people are in touch with their true, authentic selves. Way too many folks pursue success for the sake of it - living someone else's expectations for their life. Facing that realization and having the courage to do something about it is the start of something great. As trite as it sounds, follow your heart and you will lead others to greatness.