How movies portray the life of the CEO vs. reality is very different! Hollywood would have you believe that every day is spent in lavish board meetings, enjoying long (and expensive) lunches, and taking conference calls with a fancy coffee.
The truth, however, couldn’t be further from it (besides the coffee, which I can’t live without). If I could summarize the life of a CEO in only four words, it would be a lot of emails. I get a lot of emails. That’s a good thing, though. There’s no better way to keep in contact with my team, customers, investors, and the board. Email is the driving force behind my day.
The life of a CEO is changing, though. Going forward, the hands-on CEOs will be the ones who are the most successful. To meet the demands of our fast-paced world, you’ve got to be in the weeds with your team. You’ve got to respond to emails; you’ve got to chat with customers and understand how your products are being used. As a CEO, you work for your customer but also your employees. So you need to be open and available to them all.
I firmly believe that CEOs (in fact, especially CEOs!) need to have a handle on the real-world use cases of their products. To do this, I frequently chat with customers on Twitter, on LinkedIn, and especially over Spike. It’s essential for me to know what makes our customers happy or unhappy so I can share that with our team.
Starting the Day Right
Spike is headquartered in Herzliya, Israel, with some of our team working in the office, others working from home, and other teammates dotted worldwide. We benefit from having a few hours of work when the US business world is still sleeping—which is perfect for a little deep focus! This time is when the team and I can catch up on emails, social media alerts and really drill down into our strategy.
When the rest of the world finally wakes up, I move on to what’s happening internally at Spike. Everyone in the company knows they can chat with me at any time, which means our team is highly collaborative. When it comes to chatting about Spike and how to improve it for our customers, the entire company knows that everyone on the executive team is always available. We love to chat about Spike, and it really shows!
Follow Up with Video
I love email, but like everyone else, I still need to make video calls. Although digital tools have replaced analog for communication, I still find value in talking with people—even if it’s over video. It helps to humanize our staff, and I advise all CEOs to talk to their direct reports over video or in person at least once a week. If you can’t do video, use voice messaging that lets you send asynchronous snippets of audio. Sometimes, simply hearing a voice makes the difference.
When I can, I love to take a low-tech lunch break, meaning my mobile device is put in Do Not Disturb mode. Taking a low-tech lunch lets me either focus on who I am with or allows my brain to get creative. I sometimes even have time to breathe and daydream about the future of our company!
So often, we look at creativity and brainstorming as tasks to tick off the to-do list. However, we rarely control when good ideas come, so a CEO (and really everyone) must make space for creativity. Giving my brain the chance to turn off from thinking about the day’s problems helps me develop solutions for future issues. It might be hard to disconnect, but I highly recommend it.
Over time, I’ve found that many of the things I used to think were emergencies while I was at lunch weren’t actually emergencies at all. If there were a true emergency, someone would call me.
I try to avoid large, multi-person meetings unless necessary. I find it ironic that some companies require a purchase order approval to spend $30 but can call a meeting with 15 people for an hour. These meetings waste the company’s most valuable resource: time.
I use a collaborative, online Note in which I ask our managers to update regularly with major tasks and projects. Here, we share feedback, offer comments, and note any roadblocks I need to be aware of. Of course, we also give plenty of praise and encouragement.
The Note is updated in real-time, and people can comment with any questions or queries. In this way, each person on the team saves about two hours per week by avoiding large meetings. A culture of asynchronous meetings is vital to our success.
The Life of a CEO is Fast-paced, but it Shouldn’t be Overwhelming
It’s challenging being the CEO of a company 7-10 hours ahead of the US, so I have to be efficient with my time. But, as I mentioned earlier, it does have its benefits, and because we get into work ahead of the US, I enjoy some focused time before coming into the office. However, there are other considerations to take into account.
The life of a CEO of a global company is fast, but I feel in control of my schedule and my focus. By the end of the day, my goal is to ensure that every email is read and responded to, given an action item, snoozed, or archived. I trust my team to do their jobs and check in when I need to address roadblocks.
My little-known secret for powering through my overflowing inbox is pretty simple, though. My Inbox includes a Priority Inbox to separate the clutter from the essential things. I check my “Other Inbox” once a day and archive almost all of it.
I frequently snooze emails that come in late in the day or the following day and come back to them when I am more alert. However, I try to handle anything that takes less than two minutes and doesn’t require much focus immediately.
One of the hardest things to do as a CEO in 2021 is to take back control of your focus and attention. A CEO is more valuable to a company when they can spend more time on nurturing brainstorming and creativity rather than spending their day responding to emails that aren’t mission-critical. Of course, answering email is an essential part of my workflow, but you must make sure it doesn’t become your entire day.
It’s easy for organizations to have a “tool expansion” problem as they grow. Instead of maximizing their existing resources and capabilities, they’ll go searching for something new to add to the growing list of apps and software platforms. I use the same tools for interacting with the board as I do with new customers. Instead of managing many different tools, I’ve streamlined my workflows to have one place for all essential communications.
Three key things to remember for ensuring success as a CEO in 2021:
Take back control of your attention and focus
Trust your team
Be accessible to your team and your customers - Remember you ultimately work for them
As our workplaces continue to splinter between remote teams and in-office employees, digital tools that work well for both will be critical to enable teams to bridge the communication gap.
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