Manage your life as a Shareholder and Board, not just a CEO
We are all responsible for our own actions. We can live life reactively, responding to stimuli, or live life proactively, creating the life you want to live. We can live deterministically with fixed outcomes, opportunistically with unfolding outcomes, or anything in between.
A popular framework is to “become the CEO of your life” – to manage yourself like a business. In this framework, we can analyze the “departments” of our life (our relationships, our finances, our career, our health, our image, our learning), and we can set intentional growth goals for each. As an example, a career goal can be, “I want to earn $100,000 annually before I turn 35.” We can then reverse-engineer the steps we need to take to get there.
This framework is beneficial in that it cultivates an objective perspective on yourself, but it can be limiting in that it fails to ask the bigger question: “Who am I, and how do I really want to live? Why do I have these interests, and what decisions am I really making?”
We can use an extended framework to include these bigger questions: we aren’t just the CEO of our lives. We’re also the Board, and we are also the Shareholder.
In companies, the trichotomy of the Shareholder, the Board, and the CEO works together to deliver business growth and the products their customers demand.
The Shareholder is the legal owner, and they are the benefactor of the appreciation in business value. It requires the vote of the Shareholder for the most important company situations. They elect the Board to manage the affairs of the business and help appreciate the value of the company (thus, appreciating their earnings).
The Board makes high-level strategic decisions for a company. They identify the goal to head toward. They decide what business to be in. They decide what business lines to divest. They calculate the amount of capital to raise. And, they retain and nurture the CEO to execute on the plan.
The CEO runs the day-to-day of the company. They are ultimately accountable for the company’s success. They work with the Board to choose the direction, and they are responsible for moving in that direction. They make sure the business is moving.
Within ourselves, the trichotomy works together to deliver personal growth and the products you demand.
The Shareholder is the ultimate benefactor and the owner of your life. They represent how you feel on a daily basis. The Shareholder generates the vision for how they wish their life to be lived. The Shareholder thinks, “How do I want to feel?” The Shareholder uses words like, “purpose, meaning, impact, joy, fulfillment, satisfaction.”
The Board is the strategist and decision-maker. The Board generates the ideas, and chooses the ideas, for what we do with our lives. The Board thinks, “What actions do we need to take, to feel the way the Shareholder wants to feel?” The Board uses words like, “direction, change, choice, opportunity cost, test.”
The CEO is the implementer and executor. The CEO is responsible for doing the work to drive our change. The CEO is the engine, the drive, the push, the lift. The CEO thinks, “How will I achieve these actions, that the Board has decided, to feel the way the Shareholder wants to feel?” The CEO uses words like, “goals, achievement, speed, movement, progress.”
We become our best selves when all three are in alignment.
This is who I am and how I want to live (The Shareholder).
I make these changes as a reflection of who I am (The Board).
Therefore, I achieve these goals and receive these benefits as a result of my actions (The CEO).
When we are aligned, magic happens.
- The Shareholder is happy, engaged, and fulfilled.
- The Board generates new ideas and makes decisions to cultivate and expand that feeling.
- The CEO bursts with an endless well of energy – doing things that create those feelings.
Starting my first corporate job out of college, I was enthusiastic and excited. I had an opportunity to learn from hundreds of thousands of professional consultants, and I wanted to make the most of my experience. I came to work engaged, curious, and ready to make an impact.
I said yes to many opportunities: helping senior executives on special projects, joining volunteer groups, leading others’ work, and taking more responsibility. I stretched myself, spending nights and weekends to progress my corporate career.
Despite the positives, the “honeymoon” didn’t last after it became clear this corporate job would not be my long-term career. I couldn’t see myself becoming my manager – my destiny were I to stay. The work became “okay” instead of “fascinating.” The job looked more like a means to an end, instead of the end in itself. And, I became more concerned about the size of my paycheck.
In the final months before my departure, I became more detached. I found ways to automate my work, creating an impact without spending the hours. I became less proactive and more reactive – waiting for my manager to give me work, instead of the other way around. I wasn’t learning as much as I originally had. So, I stopped reaching for more.
Taking a remote working assignment was the nail in the coffin. I became completely unproductive and disengaged.
When we are misaligned, we harbor dissatisfied feelings, we question our decisions, and our progress can slow.
- The Shareholder pulls away, becomes upset, dissatisfied, and distant. The Shareholder no longer holds an interest in the activities being pursued. The Shareholder thinks, “Something doesn’t feel right.”
- The Board loses confidence because the Board has made decisions in the wrong direction, generating these ill feelings. The Board begins working on strategies to return to a positive state. This creates thoughts about change: change of job, relationship, environment, habits, etc. The Board thinks, “The decisions we’ve made are no longer serving us – what changes must be made?”
- The CEO loses that flow state and output decreases. The CEO sees the tires spinning – working hard but not moving. Better to slow down, even to come to a complete stop, to let the Board figure out how to get back on track. The CEO thinks, “Why keep driving forward, if we know we need to change direction?”
My interests shifted to getting out of student debt. The rationale was – debt was keeping me tied to a traditional job, and eliminating the debt would allow me to survive on lower incomes while starting a company. I began tutoring college courses on the side. I created spreadsheets to report my past expenses and future projections. I slowed down consumption on high-cost, low-reward activities, such as dining at expensive restaurants, drinking alcohol at bars, and living in luxury apartment buildings.
I, in the seat of the CEO, was no longer focused on growth at the corporate job, so I shifted my attention to personal growth. I started tracking my habits: both behaviors I labeled as “stepping forward” and “stepping backward.” I measured habits like stretching, reading, meditating, language learning, and blogging. I also measured my alcohol intake and party attendance. I wanted to create more awareness around the life I was living.
- The Shareholder must connect inward 1) to learn more about the source of the dissatisfaction, 2) to affirm they are deserving of a better life, and 3) to create confidence that change is possible. The Shareholder must become resolute in transforming, else the change the Board and the CEO will bring will not stick. The Shareholder asks, “What do I want my life to be? What do I really want? What am I really all about?”
- The Board tests new ideas and directions with the Shareholder. The Board thinks about what will generate feelings of satisfaction. While the Shareholder connects with the source of the dissatisfaction, the Board figures out what must change. The Board asks, “Should I switch jobs? Am I with the right partner? Am I being myself? Should I lose some weight?”
- The CEO is all about movement and execution – but it’s up to the Board to ensure it’s the right direction. The CEO can execute on perfecting the fundamentals. Eating right, sleeping well, exercising enough, meditating enough, cultivating the right relationships, expressing gratitude, reading, writing, and reflecting. The CEO asks, “What is the foundation we need to prepare for this change, and how can we execute on this change well?”
I got out of debt. I became rested, relaxed, and open to opportunities. I spent a summer in Japan with my son. I continued to learn on my own. Soon, I had the confidence, energy, and means to leave my corporate job and participate in my first start-up. Joining it cultivated a feeling of happiness and well-being. I tapped into a new well of motivational energy as I poured myself into this new venture. I quickly rebalanced my life to give my best to where my heart was taking me.
- The more connected we become with our inward self, the clearer it is to know what is next. Who we are dictates what we do. Not the other way around. Ask yourself, “What is my deepest desire? How do I really want to show up to the world?”
- If we haven’t taken time to ask what we want out of life, we risk climbing up any ladder available to us. George Harrison, paraphrasing from Alice In Wonderland, sang, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.” Ask yourself, “If I continue doing what I am doing for the next five years, where will I actually end up? And, do I really want to arrive at where I’m heading?”
- It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. We are living the life we are living, right now. We are writing our own history at every moment. For example, you chose to read this blog today. This moment will be forever stamped into the timeline of your life. Every decision we make stamps into that timeline. Ask yourself, “When I’m 80 years old, how will I reflect on the decisions I’m making today?” (And if you are close to 80, imagine yourself at 100!)
Running your own self as the CEO is effective, but by adopting an emotional and strategic mindset with respect to the decisions being made, we may find better, faster results. We can all consider the perspectives of the Shareholder and the Board, in addition to the CEO, as you forge your own path. May we all find satisfaction, joy, and happiness in whatever path we choose.