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Time is the Ultimate Challenge: A Day in the Life of a CEO

The CEO, a figurehead of leadership in the management world, holds a unique and often misunderstood position. While they wield ultimate power in their companies, they grapple with challenges and limitations that are often overlooked.


Running a company is an exceedingly complex job. The scope of an organization is vast, encompassing agendas, multiple organizational levels, a myriad of external issues, and a wide array of constituencies from owners, customers, employees, government bodies, media, and more. Unlike any other role, the CEO must be the internal and external face of the company through good times and bad.


Of course, CEOs have a great deal of help and resources at their disposal. However, more than anyone else in the company, they confront an acute scarcity of one resource: time. There is never enough time to do everything a CEO is responsible for. Despite this, CEOs remain accountable for the company.


The way CEOs allocate their time and presence, where they choose to participate personally is critical to their effectiveness and the company's performance. Where and how CEOs are involved determines what gets done and signals priorities for others. It also affects their legitimacy. A CEO who doesn’t spend enough time with colleagues will seem insular and out of touch. In contrast, one who spends too much time in direct decision-making will risk being seen as a micromanager and erode employee initiative. A CEO’s schedule manifests how the leader leads and sends a powerful message to the rest of the company.


CEOs are always on, with a never-ending list of tasks. As a CEO, I typically work eleven hours on weekdays and four hours on weekends. Even during vacations, work is never far from my mind, with an average of six hours a week spent on work-related tasks. This constant availability ensures that the company's operations are always in motion.


Why such a grueling schedule? Because it is essential to the role. Every group associated with a company wants direct contact with the person at the top. As much as CEOs rely on delegation, they can’t hand off everything. They must spend at least some time with each constituency to provide direction, create alignment, win support, and gather the information needed to make good decisions. Travel is also important, as our project in various states requires a CEO to be out and about.


So, what happens with the rest of a CEO's time? Given that work could consume every hour of their lives, I have learned that as a CEO, I must set limits to preserve their health and relationships with family and friends. Sleep is limited to about six hours on a good day. To sustain the intensity of the job, CEOs need to train just like athletes do. That means allocating time for health, fitness, and rest.


The CEO's job is mentally and physically demanding. Activities that preserve elements of normal life keep CEOs grounded and better able to engage with colleagues and workers as opposed to distant, detached, and disconnected. A quote from Tom DeLong resonates: “CEOS should not become like race car drivers and treat home like a pit stop.” Always keeping this in mind makes me realize the day must end.


For a further breakdown of my day for those nosey people out there.  My day starts by waking up at 6 am; my lunch and drinks are prepared and packed for me, as going to lunch is never an option in my day. Awaiting me is a vehicle pulled out of the garage and running to hop in and drive to work. The moment my butt hits the seat of the car, my calendar is reviewed to determine which of the two companies will get most of my attention, so I can mentally prepare for my day. I pull out of the driveway and immediately get on the phone with a member of my early arrival management team or tackle a call not on the West Coast because every minute counts in the game of CEO. Admittedly, I check as many emails as possible at each red light on the way to work. Once at work, an office is picked to call home for that day, as there is one for each company. The office selected is intended to receive most of my attention that day.


Once in the office, all bank accounts and investment accounts are reviewed. Emails are reviewed to have a good grasp of all the inner workings of the business, as the election is made to be on everything. This requires the review of nearly fifteen hundred emails every day. This may sound overwhelming to some, but it becomes manageable if done only twice (morning and evening). You must ensure you do not let the email lure drown your productivity. The company's pulse is in emails; the intel is priceless to implement your leadership skills.


Once the pulse is determined for the day, it is time to get to work tackling one project that advances the company. I set this goal, and time is blocked out on my calendar every day for this reason. The fight is on throughout the day to accomplish this one item as CEOs are agenda-driven, but you must look at it as a matrix that is not always set in stone. In between meetings are sprinkled in, coaching and mentoring staff and managers, addressing issues that arise, and knowing that when you leave your office to pee or warm up your lunch, you will likely have to bob and weave to make it to the destination without being interrupted multiple times to get there with hopes of returning to meet the next task defined on your agenda for the day.


My day's best and worst parts are when the employees go home. It is best because this is when that one project started at the beginning of the day gets polished off for a sense of personal accomplishment. It is worse because, as a CEO, your family pays the price for the commitment you are making to hold the role of CEO. At 6 pm every day, like clockwork, a call from home is received to gauge my stress level and estimated departure time. If the party detects a stress level on the other end of the phone, the call quickly ends with, “I will call you back in thirty minutes.” This is where the guilt kicks in, and you realize you must wrap up your workday to give your family the time they yearn for. Once in the car to drive home, my husband gets his undivided thirty minutes of talk time to catch up on each other's day. My goal is to return to the driveway within twelve hours of departure.


Believe it or not, I thrive on this controlled chaos. It does require the stamina mentioned above. Every day is a marathon for a CEO!


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