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Is That "Fire in Your Belly" Leading to "Burnout?"

Avoid CEO burnoutRecently, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal on CEO "burnout."  While it focused, primarily, on larger public companies, "burnout" is an issue that is applicable with lessons to be learned for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

The CEO job, whether you're running a $2 billion public company or a 3 person start-up can be a lonely, pressure-filled experience with endless problems interrupted by short spurts of satisfaction. " The buck stops here," and all that.

And, if you're not careful, it can lead to "burnout," where you dread doing the very thing you sought, whether that be "the corner office" or "your own company." At least that's how many CEOs, and entrepreneurs would tell it. While "burnout" can occur, it doesn't have to and, actually, it shouldn't.

Being a CEO is something I know a little something about, having held the position more than 20 times in my career, either in companies I started, owned or was brought in to fix, both public and private. Every one of them was a learning experience, not all pleasant, some painful.

I learned that you can do two things with that "fire in your belly."

One creates a spreading fire of passion, commitment and partnership within the staff of your company that drives great results, or one creates a "burnout" situation for themselves, uninvolved/apathetic employees and less than stellar results for your company. And this is a major lesson for entrepreneurs and small business owners to learn on their way to success.

Here are some ways to increase your odds of becoming a successful CEO of your small business and, at the same time, decrease the odds for "burnout."

It's not good to be the "king!"

A takeoff from a Monty Python line, but it simply means that when you finally do start building staff, don't foster an image of being "above the masses," either in terms of obvious perks (like your own parking space), or nepotism (you put your significant other in a role for which he/she has no qualifications other than being that significant other).

That doesn't mean that you can't enjoy some "fruits of your labors" or can't hire relatives, it's just being smart and maybe even a little circumspect about it. Nothing will isolate you quicker than acting the role of king over your domain.And isolation is the first step toward "burnout."

Make the "fire in your belly" contagious

Use the passion that you have for the business to drive the business. Use every opportunity to "preach the gospel" with employees and give them a sense of mission, from their first day with the company. Whether your product or service is going to change the world or not, with success, it will change some small segment of it. And show them how they can grow, at the same time.

Finally, make sure employees know the critical numbers of the business. Make sure they understand their role in making those numbers. Spread your "fire!" There's no such thing as "group burnout!"

Create partners not just employees

When there is a problem, especially in the early years, seek suggestions and solutions from the people who are closest to the problem. Make them "partners" in helping to solve it.

Then they become part of the solution, feel like their opinion matters and are more likely to correct potential problems before they become crises. When you have to solve every problem is when you feel overwhelmed. Invite and encourage participation.

Hold people accountable

This is the other side of the "partner" coin. Make sure all functions have defined responsibilities and defined authority to carry out those responsibilities. No matter how minor the decision-making, when folks can control some aspect of their job, it increases how well they do it and their satisfaction and pride in it. If the responsibilities have corresponding authority, then and only then, does it enable you to hold them accountable. And, I while you always have final responsibility and accountability, there will be folks on your team that "have your back!"

Have a release (or multiple releases)

Even if you implemented the previous four suggestions fully, you will still feel the weight of the company's performance, your personal finances and, ultimately, the livelihood of all your employees on your shoulders. It simply goes with the CEO/owner territory.

You really need a few different kinds of releases. A daily one with time that's yours and yours alone, whether that be exercise, yoga or simply just sitting under a tree with non-business reading. Another, where you can share some current business frustrations or nagging issues with either your significant other (I can't say enough about this one) or a mentor, just being a sounding board.

And finally you need one where you can get away and forget the day-to-day (hard, but you have to force it) and re-kindle that fire that may be running on a slow burn. Maybe it's a long weekend; maybe it's a week, twice a year. You need to do it.

"Burnout" is avoidable, not inevitable. Use the "fire in your belly" to create an environment of mission, commitment and partnership with your employees that drives great results and gives you some sense of comfort that you are "not in this alone!"

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

As an entrepreneur, have you ever experienced "burnout?"Include the story in your comments.It will help other entrepreneurs!

If you like this post, by all means, share it with your networks and colleagues.

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