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7 Myths You Probably Believe About Your CEO

The top job might not be as great (or as horrible) as you think.

7 Myths You Probably Believe About Your CEO
[Photo: DragonImages/iStock]

Arrogant, removed, pampered, and driven, we’ve all read the headlines about CEOs who behave badly. But are a few bad apples spoiling the reputation for the rest of the leaders? We talked to several CEOs who shared the biggest myths employees believe about CEO’s jobs. Here are some details that might help you rethink how you view the person at the top.

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1. CEOs Have Glamorous Lives

From private jets to five-star restaurants, CEOs live a life of luxury, right? Not so, says Alex Shootman, CEO of Workfront, a project management software provider. “You are going to stuff a steaming Hot Pocket in your mouth five minutes before a meeting, show up to a lousy hotel at 1 a.m., and work before your family wakes up on Saturday mornings,” he says. “But everyone will think that you are living the high life.”

This is especially true at a startup. “You have to grind day in and day out,” adds Jeb Ory, CEO of Phone2Action, a startup that enables citizens to connect with policymakers. “You need to spend your time with clients, learning how they operate and how they use your product. You have to surround yourself with people that are better than you, and you have to create conditions for them to be successful.”

2. CEOs Are Lonely

It’s easy to see why people think CEOs are lonely, says Matthew Schiltz, CEO of the Salesforce app Conga. “There’s only person with the title of CEO—only one employee in the entire organization that doesn’t strictly have a peer group,” he says. “It’s up to the CEO to make everyone feel comfortable around them.”

But businesses weren’t meant to be run alone, adds Shannon Miles, co-CEO of BELAY, a virtual workforce provider. “Successful CEOs surround themselves with people who share in their vision and can help execute on it,” she says. “The more open and vulnerable a CEO can be with their peers or colleagues, the less lonely they will be.”

3. CEOs Have All The Answers

Unfortunately, they don’t, says Amanda Lannert, CEO at Jellyvision, an employee communication software provider. “But we have an ability to find the answers through our teams, networks, and research,” she says. “We’ve learned how to learn.”

The mark of a good leader can be measured by the strength of the team with which she surrounds herself, adds Talbott Roche, president and CEO of the fintech company Blackhawk Network. CEOs surround themselves with smart people who have levels of expertise. “Successful leaders may also have mentorship relationships that enable them to consult with other leaders on challenges or opportunities facing their company,” she says.

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4. CEOs Earn Millions Each Year

Some might, but the reality is most CEOs are fairly compensated based on the size of the company they work in and its industry, says Mark A. Gilmore, CEO and president of Wired Integrations, a Silicon Valley-based technology consulting firm. “Most CEOs make a moderate six figures, but are by no stretch millionaires with endless loads of cash,” he says. “That group is the 1% of the 1% whom we find often in the headlines because of the ridiculous amount of money they make.”

In a well-run startup, the CEO often doesn’t make the most money, adds Scott Collison, CEO of the data science firm Continuum Analytics. “The biggest cash earners should be key players in technical and sales positions,” he says.

5. CEOs Are Workaholics

The idea that CEOs have to work 100 hours a week or more isn’t true. “When I cut my hours, my business started to make more money,” says Andrea Goulet, cofounder and CEO of the software-remodeling firm CorgiBytes. “My job as a CEO was not to work the most hours, it was to make the right decisions at the right time. In order to have a clear head and make good decisions, personal health and downtime had to come back.”

Andrew Newman, CEO and founder of the cybersecurity company Reason Core Security, agrees. “I think it’s vital to unplug at times and reboot,” he says “Outside of the office, when I am not at home with my family, I am an avid snowboarder and black belt in karate. Being able to work out my body and my mind keeps me sharp. When not being extremely active, a little known fact is that I am a Lego collector. Growing up doesn’t mean you have to grow old.”

CEOs also make time for family, says Seth Birnbaum, CEO and cofounder of EverQuote, a website that aggregates insurance quotes. “The biggest myth I’ve heard is that CEOs are too busy to attend valuable family events,” he says. “I always make time for my family and children. In fact, Halloween is a big deal in my family and I’ve never missed one year of trick-or-treating with my kids.”

6. CEOs Are Not Approachable

Many employees assume that the CEO is withdrawn and rude, says Paul English, cofounder of Kayak and CEO of business travel app Lola.

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“You don’t have to be an aggressive jerk,” he says. “I cringe when I think that there might be some young CEOs who think they have to be arrogant to get people to follow them.”

Instead of being aloof, English believes CEOs should have confidence in their ideas, humility to realize that you will often be wrong, and curiosity around other people’s ideas in solving your customer problems.

7. CEOs Have No Bosses

Employees have remarked about how great it must be to work without a boss, but that’s not true, says Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies, a help desk software provider. “They think you determine the agenda, you decide what to do and when to do it and nobody can tell you what to do. Right? Wrong,” she says. “CEOs do report; they report to the board of directors and shareholders and they have to be accountable for the full company’s performance.”

In a sense, the CEO has many other bosses—the employees. “Every move, decision, and communication is being evaluated by the employees since this the way the company performs impacts them directly as employees,” she says.