The Maya Of A CEO
Being a CEO, there’s no one to run to. A disruption in the market – it’s your problem. Resignations. Designations. Missed targets. Competition. Losses. Funding lines. Shareholder unhappiness. It’s all your problem
Many years ago after I finished college I remember going to the coffee shop at Taj Mansingh hotel and chanced upon one of my Mayo friends who was in the F&B department there. He looked dapper in his uniform and had a quick chat with me as he stood by the table. I commented on what a stylish and glamorous job he had but he had another reality to offer. “It’s two worlds”, he said, “one that you see and one that you don’t see.”
He pointed to a blue door in the corridor and said “Behind that door is the actual world I live in. It’s full of sweat and stress and deadlines with chefs cursing and managers going crazy. But then I walk through the door on to this side and am in this world. A world full of perfume and chiffon and lace and the fine gentry, so I have to put on my best smile and fine manners… and it’s driving me effing crazy because I cross through these worlds 30 times a day!”
A week later he resigned.
As I grew older, I saw this fracture in many different places.
An air hostess has one world where she fights against insomnia, cramped quarters and menstrual time zone problems. While on the other side of the door is the world of first class – plush seats, fancy wines and of course Nicole Kidman.
A model at one of the fashion weeks confided in me that the green rooms were often high stress, odd smelling and cluttered places, while, of course, the ramp was red or lilac with LED lights and the who’s who of society waiting.
The five years that I spent consulting with showtime events I saw much of this – mud , dust, wires, cables and screaming behind the stage, and music, dance, satin and holograms in front.
Being a founder CEO has the same surreality.
On one hand the buck stops with you. You are the head honcho and the top dog. You get the biggest salaam from the parking fellow, the lift man and the peon. The company is yours to command and everyone listens to you (or at least they should – are you hearing me Team NFX!) There are movies about CEOs and books about CEOs, there is are conferences for CEOs and even magazines called CEO. You sit at the head of the table, you speak at seminars, you award yourself huge bonuses, you travel business class. You take power naps and jetsetting holidays. You have at your disposal the company jet, the company car or the company auto rickshaw – depending on how large your company is. You have the biggest cabin, with a leather sofa and one of those steel ball hitting sculptures on your desk (which seems to be standard issue to all CEOs).
But the buck stops with you in another way also.
And that’s the other side of being the founder CEO.
There’s no one to run to. A disruption in the market – it’s your problem. Resignations. Designations. Missed targets. Competition. Losses. Funding lines. Q on Q growth. Shareholder unhappiness. It’s all your problem.
So what’s behind the blue door.
High stress levels. Insomnia. Staggering pressure. Fear. Panic. The need to show a brave face. Relentless tasks – ten things that need to be done all the time. The need for a Plan A, B and C running simultaneously all the time.
For some reason, successful CEOs tend to underplay all this when they write autobiographies or talk to college graduates. And that’s a shame – because those students need to know the truth.
Which brings us to the final question – which one of these worlds is the truth?
My Mayo friend would say what’s behind the door.
All the glossy shiny successful CEOs would say what’s in front of the door.
But the Bhagwad Gita? It says neither of them is real.
Because that is the Maya of life.
Now how about that?