Few jobs have the potential to be lonelier and more stressful than CEO/Executive Director. It can often feel like the weight of the organization is on your shoulders. Deadlines, budgets, boards, staff, buildings, routine operational issues, and new initiatives are just a few of the things that can put weigh down a CEO.
Compounding the problem is the isolation. You often don’t want to talk to your board about issues, ideas, or intensity until they are fully conceived because you don’t want your board to get excited prematurely. At the same time, it can be inappropriate and/or counterproductive to lean into staff who may not have a full picture, have personal agendas, or who may be negatively influenced by your thoughts and concerns. It is easy to feel stuck.
I have been working with one such CEO recently. I had a sense that this CEO was feeling the pressure, so I reached out and arranged a check-in. This season was busier than ever before. A capital campaign, building project, some exciting grant opportunities, not to mention an agency running at capacity created demands new to the CEO and the agency.
It was during this call that I asked a simple question that had a significant impact. The question was inspired from the story of the battle with the Amalekites in Exodus 17. During the battle, it was observed that whenever their leader Moses would raise his arms, they would prevail. However, whenever Moses lowered his arms, the enemy would prevail. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before Moses’ arms got tired. That is where Aaron and Hur stepped in and held Moses’ arms up until sunset when they won the battle.
Like Moses, our CEO’s arms were obviously and understandably getting tired; so I asked the obvious question: who is holding your arms up? The CEO’s answer was not surprising: his only support system was his wife. While his wife is amazing, it was unfair to her to ask her to bear the full brunt of support. Notice that Aaron was not holding up BOTH arms.
For the next 15 minutes, we brainstormed a range of people who could hold up his arms. Part of the challenge for the CEO was the fear of being a burden. He knew how busy he was and saw how busy others were. He couldn’t bring himself to asking others to help him. I then reminded him of the blessing it is for people called to be in the role of Aaron or Hur to be asked to help and serve in their calling.
Who is holding up your arms? Seriously, take a few moments to reflect on who is holding your arms up? Moreover, when is the last time you let them? Intentionally seeking out a support system is vital to long-term success as a CEO. The intensity will grind you down if you are now savvy in reaching out other CEO’s, coaches, consultants, pastors, friends, and yes, spouses.