Executive Strengths TrainnerHey Jim,” the email began, “how often do you run across CEOs who love their company and hate their own job description?”
He explained that as he’d grown his business, he hired people to handle tasks he had enjoyed doing in the early days and now finds his calendar filled with administrative tasks no one else wants to do. “I can’t imagine any entrepreneur starting out wanting to be an administrator.”

Companies – smart ones – put significant resources toward employee engagement and retention, but what about the boss? Who watches out for the men and women in the c-suite? If retaining key employees is critical for profitability, keeping the boss engaged should be near the top of any company’s training agenda.

The research leading to introduction of the original StrengthsFinder® assessment tool found that money and benefits were not essential elements among teams of highly-productive people. High productivity, retention and customer satisfaction scores were typically higher in teams where people were presented with opportunities to play to their strengths, every day.  Engaging in activities that make you feel strong is a good way to avoid burnout.
Human beings are predictable creatures of habit, and most c-level managers are human beings; so, it makes sense that a CEO who is frequently exercising her strengths muscles will experience a higher level of burnout immunity than one who is not.

Five reasons for CEO burnout:

1 – Some people should never run a company. The skills required to start a business differ from those needed to keep a business moving ahead. Hiring a qualified operations person, or a talented corporate manager could feel like sharing your spouse with a stranger, but if administrating the organization drains you, there soon may be nothing to share.

2 – The Superman or Wonder Woman delusion. Ego isn’t a bad thing. Leaders need a good supply of self-confidence to expect that they’ll be followed, but it’s unhealthy to adopt the position that you can (or should) be able to effectively sit in any chair. Have you ever met a top-level manager who looks good in blue tights? CEOs should know what they bring to the game, bring it, and stand aside while others bring their best game.

3 – False or misdirected servanthood. Equally dysfunctional to the cape-wearing, ego-maniacal CEO is the hapless conciliator who can’t come to grips with the reality that their voice really should carry more weight than everyone else on the payroll. Collaboration, communication and accessibility are worthwhile leadership attributes; they have a direct effect on employee engagement, but failing to take the stage and lead is counter-productive.

4 – Drowning in an ocean of success. Funny how success can cause some people to feel ill at ease. They’re wired to pioneering new trails, starting things, fixing things. After an extended stretch of smooth sailing, these folks are looking for something to do. They often turn their attention inward, floundering as they try to maintain already-blazed trails, instead of playing to their strengths and finding a new place for the company to go.

5 – Not knowing when to throw in the towel. Entrepreneurs are fun to be around because they always have a positive outlook. There’s always a chance to succeed and a new place to go. They can also stay committed for too long to ideas that need to be put away. CEOs of larger organizations have stockholders and directors to force issues, but many company founders don’t have that support network. Perhaps the most encouraging thing a CEO in this position can hear is a reminder that the intense appetite that led them to cook up the last idea is still there. If they want to feed the hunger, it is ready to roar.

True confessions: I’ve never been a CEO. Leading a company doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I personally know a fair number of them, many of whom will swear I have written about them in the descriptions above. With the exception of the individual who sent the initial email, none of the scenarios represent actual people.

One of the activities that makes me feel strong is helping c-level executives and senior managers develop credible and actionable knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses. I provide confidential one-on-one training and host an executives-only SimplyStrengths Workshop twice a year. The next workshop is scheduled for October 10-11, 2011 in Pismo Beach, CA. The next will be in Toronto, Ontario in mid-February 2012.

What about you? What have you done to avoid burnout? What advice would you give the very real CEO who sparked this post with his initial email?