CEOs seek emotional anchors against stress
CCD founder VG Siddhartha's death highlights the plight of leaders in today’s stressful world.
These lines from the letter that founder V G Siddhartha wrote to Cafe Coffee Day employees before going missing highlights the plight of leaders in today’s stressful world. Although organisations have begun taking initiatives to help employees manage stress levels, it’s very lonely at the top. With greater volatility in the external business environment, there are growing instances of stress building up in leaders, sometimes resulting in health issues and, in extreme cases, pushing an individual to end his life.
There have been several cases of suicide by CEOs across the globe. Anjali Chhabria, psychiatrist and founder of MindTemple, said there is a growing trend of Indian CEOs and corporate leaders seeking help to overcome stress.
“The external environment is leading to panic attacks among some who are now seeking help. People feel a leader has all the answers. So, when the leader is faced with a challenge he cannot handle, he feels hopeless and helpless. It is during these times they need to reach out to people for an outlet or advice. It will prevent them from taking any extreme step,” said Chhabria, who has branched into managing corporate stress as well.
While professional CEOs are governed by internal performance metrics, which offers them the window to move on if under-performing, stress levels are said to be higher for startup entrepreneurs who are driven by the pressures of delivering high valuations.
A former CEO of a multinational firm said, “When you are the owner, there’s also a self-imposed pressure on you, apart from societal and other kinds of pressures. This sudden fascination for valuations, rather than focusing on running a company, is wrong and is going to weigh heavily on startup entrepreneurs. It’s important to be grounded, surrounded by friends when ambitions and success become bigger challenges in darker moments of a CEO/founder’s life.”
With a greater chorus around enabling employees to achieve a work-life balance, there is pressure on entrepreneurs to take on the extra workload and put in longer hours, said Kamal Karanth, co-founder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing company. “The startup work culture of today is no longer what one used to see some years back, when it used to be buzzing with activity and people worked till late. Millennials are keen to log off early in the evening. This is putting immense pressure on leaders to finish leftover work. So, it is increasingly becoming lonely at the top. Most founders are also not equipped to handle people and thus suffer from stress on that count as well,” said Karanth.
Support groups for entrepreneurs have picked up pace to help them steer around difficulties of any kind. Ascent Foundation, founded by Marico chairman Harsh Mariwala, offers a peer learning platform to support growthready entrepreneurs who meet regularly and share with each other their experience, ideas and insights in a highly confidential, safe and non-judgmental environment. “The role of the platform is facilitation and enables learning among entrepreneurs. It has helped several entrepreneurs in the Ascent cohort to share their professional and personal challenges and find a meaningful outlet,” said Mariwala.
Mariwala, who also has a personal philanthropy endeavour — Mariwala Health Initiative (MHI), which addresses mental health issues — said a culture of managing stress at the workplace is very critical. The same would apply to leaders as well. Chhabria’s advice to them, “A lot of leaders are perfectionists. They cannot condone any mistake they make. My advice would be learn to set your ego aside and laugh at your mistakes.”