Do you remember that line, from a 1978 public service announcement encouraging viewers to join the Peace Corps? (Hint - “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love”)  Well, it seems like it might also readily apply to the CEO job. Our survey of executives found that being CEO was much tougher than our executives ever imagined, but also much more rewarding.

First, the tough part. The CEO job is demanding in every sense of the word, requiring physical, mental, and emotional stamina. “I had no idea how physically demanding the job would be,” one CEO told us. “For this job, I need to be energetic, focused, and disciplined.”

Part of the challenge is that CEOs are inundated with information, and barraged every day with demands for their time and attention. Some told us that it simply wasn’t possible to digest all the information coming at them. CEOs typically have to understand the organizational, industrial, and public policy dimensions of their business across geographies, and they must read and approve the reports, proposals, and presentations that go before their boards. It’s a huge burden, requiring intense discipline on their part to attend to what is really important, and to say no to secondary or non-essential requests.

Many CEOs in our study expressed their surprise at how far the job infringed on their family time. “Finding a balance as a CEO is a huge challenge,” one executive said. “It creates demands on you and your family that you can’t imagine.” 

As for how to achieve that balance, executives in our survey offered a number of valuable suggestions:

  • Take care of your health: Study participants emphasized the importance of sleeping, eating well and exercising—no matter what. 
  • Rely on your assistant: If you don’t have a good one, a person who understands your role and empathizes with the stress you’re under.
  • Leave your CEO role and title at the office: Taking time away from the job will enhance your relationships with people who mean the most to you, and this will ultimately make you a better CEO.
  • Commit to your family: Determine what your most important family commitments are—whether it’s attending Saturday movie night, Friday night dinner, or your kids regular soccer matches—and stick to them.
  • Get your family behind you: Look to your family as your early warning system when you start to get out of balance; listen to them when they try to help.

CEOs we spoke with also coped by reminding themselves of why they took the job in the first place. It usually wasn’t about the money, but rather for a chance to have a positive impact on the lives of many. As most respondents in our study noted, the job was every bit as satisfying as they’d hoped it would be, even with all of its demands and hardships. “My biggest surprise,” one said, “is that being CEO is as fun as it is.”

If you’re aiming for the top spot, rest assured, you’ll have a chance to create something larger than yourself—a great company full of opportunity and rewards for many people, the opportunity to serve the needs of customers and consumers. Becoming CEO really is the toughest job you’ll ever love—and then some.

More on the CEO study can be found in the book Preparing CEOs For Success “What I Wish I Knew”. For more information, visit the CLG Bookstore.

And, for more information about CLG Executive Advisors and the support they provide to CEOs, c-suite executives, and high potentials on issues such as leadership, strategy execution, succession, new leader transition, change implementation, and teamwork among senior teams visit the CLG Executive Advisor section of the website.