Depression and the Entrepreneur

depression and leadershipA recent series in the Puget Sound Business Journal told the stories of several tech startup CEOs and their bouts with depression. It discussed the extreme focus on the business, to the exclusion of all else, that led to the depression and the consequences. Anyone who has started a business knows this can and will likely happen. It’s a matter of how deep you go and how quickly you can get out of it.

I think tech companies are particularly prone to this because the nature of the work is largely “solo.” They code until they can no longer keep their eyes open and wake up to do it all over again. Such concentrated focus can produce results, but at what cost? In the case of the CEO of Moz, Rand Fishkin, he ended up stepping down after a serious bout with depression.

However, even if you don’t have a tech startup, leading any entrepreneurial venture can be lonely and isolating. I have two ideas that I’ve seen helpful to prevent this from happening.

Should the Founder Remain the Leader?

First and foremost, the founder needs to determine whether they are indeed the one to “lead” the company. I discuss this at length in Chapter 2 of my book, The Entrepreneurial Puzzle. In a nutshell, not everyone is cut out to lead. Founders are idea people and that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good leaders. In fact in most cases, they are not. Just because someone was the top of the class as an architect, doctor, programmer, scientist, engineer, does not mean they should lead. The further they go down the road as CEO or leader, the more uncomfortable they are and the more pressure to make decisions is piled on. Now the work they were doing on the product or service is compromised AND their effectiveness to lead others on the project or vision diminishes greatly.

The sooner the founder discovers what I commonly refer to as “only do what only you can do,” the more successful they will be. Being CEO is a full-time job. Doing it while building the “plane” is equivalent to flying it while it’s being built. This usually results in a crash.

Leverage the Support of Peer Advisory

The second idea is to use a peer advisory group to check your backswing. With all the stress of the late hours, no balance, and dogged determination, who is going to tell you that you’re seriously heading for that crash? Who is going to offer to help without asking for payment? Your fellow CEOs who are in the same boat as you and want to help as much as they want help from you. Don’t go it alone. Obviously I have a bias here as the President of CEO Global Network, Western US, but that bias is based on many years of experience. I know firsthand what peer advisory can do to help leaders avoid falling into that pit of depression. And beyond helping prevent depression, how about increasing the odds of your success from 10% for most startups to closer to 40-50%? If you were betting wouldn’t you want the second set of odds? The support and solutions you need are just a CEO group away.

photo credit: Teesmouth Ragnarök via photopin (license)