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This is how CEOs can achieve work-life balance

A venture capital insider shares what she learned from helping CEOs navigate their leadership journey.

This is how CEOs can achieve work-life balance
[Photo: www.pixxelmixx.de/iStock]

Has a fear of failing ever kept you up at night? If so, you’re not alone. According to a study that my firm–Norwest Venture Partners–conducted, 90 percent of CEOs are losing sleep over their fear of failure.

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Reaching the title of CEO is a significant milestone in one’s professional career. But it is often coupled with uncertainty, the pressure to succeed, and a never-ending struggle to find work-life balance. As a Portfolio Services partner at Norwest, my colleagues and I have worked with many CEOs from all walks of life and have helped them navigate their leadership journey. Here are some of their tips for achieving work-life balance.

They prioritize spending time outside of work (and encourage their employees to do the same)

CEOs are always on the go. They juggle work meetings between family obligations and often log 15-hour days. They rely on on-demand applications like Instacart for groceries, cleaning services like Handy, and their phones to tell them where they need to be and when.

Maintaining a strong work-life balance is critical to a healthier work and home life for CEOs. Our study found that 71 percent of CEOs get over six hours of sleep at night, and 60 percent exercise multiple times a week. When you’re the CEO, there’s always something that warrants your time and attention. That’s why many CEOs make it a priority to spend time out of the office. Making time for leisure activities and personal interests can help them cope with the demands of the job.

Two CEOs who abide by this principle are Erica Rogers, CEO of Silk Road Medical, and Jim Barnett, CEO of Glint. Erica makes time for live theater, which is both a hobby and a passion because it allows her to practice the art of improvisation and thinking on her feet. In live theater, anything can happen, and you have to be able to respond without taking the time to think through your strategy. After all, the live audience is waiting for your next line or dance move, she says.

Erica applies what she learns in live theater to her role as CEO. She believes that raising venture money is very similar to performing on stage. You tell the same story a hundred times to get the term sheet, and the story has to be fresh and sizzling each time, she says. Erica also encourages her entire staff to take part in fitness and outdoor activities. The company has a yoga instructor on site once a week, a well-equipped gym, and a fleet of custom-designed Silk Road bicycles.

Jim makes it his goal to support the rock climbers, bass players, cyclists, painters, poets, and marathon runners among others at Glint. He believes that there is a considerable benefit to leaders who support the hobbies and interests of their employees outside of work. Doing so sends a signal that work-life balance is integral to the company and makes it easier for the CEO to do the same. Not to mention, research shows that engaging in hobbies can improve work performance and productivity.

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They take the time to master soft skills

In the tech startup world, many new CEOs are technicians by trade and have found their way to the CEO role via a career in engineering or software development. While hard skills are incredibly critical to the success of a company, it’s also crucial for CEOs to develop soft skills.

Networking, giving presentations, speaking at events and managing an incredibly busy work day are all part of the CEO job description. That’s why soft skills can be just as beneficial as technical or domain expertise. Norwest’s study revealed that 37 percent of CEOs wish they had better public speaking, planning, and organizing skills.

How does this tie to work-life balance? Soft skills like planning and organizing make it easier for CEOs to prioritize their to-dos and identify the things that they should focus on. Being better at public speaking can help them connect with their employees and communicate a unified vision, delivering a sense of camaraderie and cohesion in the company. When employees are clear on where the company is going and what they need to do to get there, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work. Disengagement is a common sources of stress for CEOs, so an absence of that makes achieving work-life balance easier.

Build a strong network

Leaning on peer CEOs and investors in times of uncertainty or change is critical to a successful career. Hard times in this role are inevitable, but networking with other CEOs can be an excellent way to troubleshoot problems and solutions. Norwest’s survey found that 93 percent of CEOs socialize with other CEOs and founders at least few times a month. CEOs should also leverage their investor’s network. At Norwest, we offer our CEOs a highly curated network of contacts, and we see the benefits of collaboration between executives that take place at all stages. There are also numerous networking and coaching organizations to join that are organized by industry, gender and focus area.

With a title like CEO, there’s an assumption that you have to know everything about running a successful business. But as humans, we never really stop learning and growing. Dealing with stress and uncertainty is part of a CEO’s job, but it should never be at the expense of their sanity and health.


Katie Belding is a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, leading the firm’s Marketing & Portfolio Services.

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This article has been updated to clarify that the nature of Katie Belding’s work. 

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