I recently became a CEO. However, after eight days, I found myself back in my old position at my previous company. Why? I quickly realized that I was interested in the idea of being a CEO but not committed to actually being one. Let me try to share the highlights of my journey.
Late one afternoon, while sitting at my desk, I received a call from the Chairman of the Board of a newer EHS Consulting and Services company. He mentioned that he was given my information by a mutual acquaintance and after some research; he and the Board thought my experience and leadership training would make me a great fit as the CEO for this new company. I remember thinking to myself, “what the heck? Me, a CEO? This has to be a joke…” And even though I was certain he had the wrong number, I continued to listen to what the Chairman had to say. After some confirmation I was indeed the intended recipient of this call. I agreed to meet with him and discuss the offer a little more. It took several meetings and phone conversations but slowly, I was starting to tell myself they were right and I was a great fit.
So, after a few months of contemplation and discussions with my wife, I was giving my notice to my current employer. Excited, eager and full of energy, I arrived at the office and began to meet people and settle in. However, after a couple of days, I began to feel uncomfortable. Despite my constant efforts to make myself feel at home and connect with people, things just didn’t feel right and it was becoming obvious that I didn’t fit in. The harder I tried, the more I failed. It didn’t take me long to realize this new role was completely different from anything I had ever done before. Formerly, my role as VP, EHS was to create a culture through policies, procedures and programs and lead my staff through encouragement, motivation and support. Now, I saw my role as the visionary leader who would be responsible for the overall direction of the company. Although it was a great opportunity, it wasn’t my what I did. It wasn’t what I was good at. I spent my whole career getting good at building safe cultures. My initial position was to build a business; to create a service that would be desired by companies worldwide and I was confident in my ability to be successful. As the reality of the situation was setting in, I was beginning to see I would have to balance things differently in my life. I would be limiting the time spent on things I loved, such as leadership training and keynote speaking and it didn’t seem as though this new position was going to be worth it. It became very evident that I was not committed to this role. Sure, with A LOT of hard work and lost weekends, I believe I could have been successful. But was that what I wanted at this point in my life? No it wasn’t.
I don’t know about you, but when something doesn’t feel right, I don’t sleep very well, some nights, not at all. I spent several nights lying awake in bed or pacing the living room, trying to figure out why I wasn’t confident in this position. I wasn’t myself. I would come home and my wife knew I wasn’t happy, without me having to say a word. Although it was a short time, it quickly became the norm. I would come home and not have a positive thing to say. We use to cherish the evenings and converse about our days. What was wrong? After all, I was now a CEO! Well, it took me about six days into my new role for me to realize, I was simply interested in being a CEO, but definitely not committed.
Identifying this as the root of my unhappiness and the cause of my now unsettled life, I spent some time in thought and came up with a few reasons why I felt I was interested vs. committed. I want to quickly share some of these with you.
There is no doubt that I was very interested in being the CEO of this company. In fact, my life goal has always been to be the top leader. Here are some of the things that interested my about this position;
- I had interest in being the decision maker.
- I had a desire to build a company that provided a livelihood for others. I wanted to help others succeed.
- I had a desire to create a culture based on my own leadership desires, ethics and moral values.
- I had a desire to show friends and family I could be successful.
- I wanted my wife to think her husband was the “bid dog”.
When it came down to it, I just wasn’t committed. I found there were a lot of sacrifices that needed to be made and I wasn’t necessarily ready to make them.
- I wasn’t committed to working the hours that were necessary to get the company off the ground.
- I wasn’t committed to not having the benefits that come with an established company.
- I wasn’t committed to taking the financial risks that were necessary.
- I wasn’t committed to altering the balance between my work life and personal life. I was fond of the lifestyle my wife and I have grown accustom to.
- I wasn’t committed to giving up my leadership training and speaking opportunities; the things I loved doing the most.
I was interested in the notion of being CEO, but I was not committed to the sacrifices that were required of me. I am like the chicken in The Chicken and the Pig fable (modified to make my point);
I am interested enough to lay the egg, but I am not committed enough to be the
piece of ham on the plate.
I read a quote somewhere that said “Commitment is an act, not a word”. I was not willing to make the commitment necessary to ensure the success of this company. Would it be fair to continue in a position where you are not fully committed? I didn’t think it would be.
WHAT I LEARNED
Once I had realized I wasn’t fully committed to being the CEO of this company, I called my former CEO and humbly made it clear that I had made a mistake and desired to come back (humility, a topic for another blog). It worked out and I began to transition back into my position as VP, EHS. Next, I had to confront the Chairman of the Board and let him know my decision. I was honest with him about not being committed and he genuinely understood my position and the struggles I had faced. So, he graciously accepted my resignation.
The fact of the matter was simply this:
I loved my current job and I was extremely happy and successful at it. I realized that we all have a role in life, and once you find what that is, it is hard to change it. I believe that we are all born with talents, some more than others. A professional football player doesn’t easily transition into a professional soccer player. Just like, a professional baseball player doesn’t just become a NASCAR racer. One doesn’t become a world-class pianist by being interested in playing the piano. No, they become world-class by being committed to being the best.
I am not saying that I wouldn’t ever consider being anything more than a VP, EHS, but I feel I will be better prepared to identify if I am just simply interested or if I am truly committed.
It is my hope and desire that someone in a similar situation may read this and have a better understanding of being interested vs. committed. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to return to my previous role and continue on with not only what I am good at, but what I truly love doing. Sometimes, that’s not the case.