Beyond the Boardroom, CEOs Must Also Strike a Delicate Emotional Balance

In the world of business, the role of a CEO is often seen as one of power, privilege, and prosperity. However, beneath the surface of corner offices and executive perks lies a hidden aspect of their job; emotional labor. This phrase, which sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined, refers to the emotional toll that particular professions have on people. While it's easy to assume that CEOs don't bear this burden, the truth is quite the opposite.

CEOs are responsible for steering their organizations through the turbulent waters of crises, and recent years have provided no shortage of these challenges. From the global pandemic to geopolitical conflicts, these leaders must make tough, often polarizing decisions that can leave their organizations and themselves emotionally scarred. Consider Amazon's ongoing remote work vs. office hours debate, which divided not only the company but also the opinions of its workforce, highlighting the emotional labor involved in such decisions.

Furthermore, CEOs are now expected to be socially and environmentally conscious leaders. This era of "CEO activism" demands that they openly address a wide range of societal issues. However, speaking out comes at a cost. Public statements can make CEOs vulnerable to criticism from various stakeholders. Balancing personal principles, organizational values, and external pressures is emotionally draining, as seen in Disney CEO Bob Chapek's ousting over a controversial state bill.

The demand for authentic leadership has also risen, with stakeholders expecting CEOs to share their personal stories and experiences. Authenticity can build trust, but it also makes CEOs emotionally vulnerable. While sharing personal information can benefit the organization, it places new demands on CEOs and may deter potential leaders who value their privacy.

So, how can CEOs cope with this hidden emotional labor? Four key tools can help them navigate these treacherous waters:

Trust Close Friends: CEOs should confide in a close circle of trusted friends, family members, or mentors. Isolation only increases stress, and discussing difficulties with honest, private individuals can provide much-needed relief.

Listen to Professional Advisors: External experts and PR specialists can offer valuable insights during crises. CEOs should hire and listen to these advisors while maintaining control over their decisions.

Remember, It's Not Personal: CEOs must realize that criticism is often directed at the company, not them personally. Restorative practices like exercise, meditation, and hobbies can improve resilience in the face of personal attacks.

Anticipate Others' Emotions: Emotional intelligence is key. CEOs should predict how their actions will affect others and themselves. Listening to diverse constituencies can help them process emotionally charged decisions.

To excel in this role, CEOs must harness their emotional intelligence, lean on trusted confidants, and remember that, despite the personal toll, they are steering their organizations through ever-changing emotional landscapes.