The Super Powers (and Kryptonite) of an Empathetic CEO

Best Superhero gif I could find.

After a lengthy absence I decided to finish one of my many draft postings. Inspired by recent conversations I had with other founders who, in some cases, were struggling with their businesses, but in most cases were struggling personally.

I realize there are a lot of conversations around depression in founders, and while I think it’s great that people are openly discussing this without fear of being judged, I believe that people may apply the label a bit too freely at times.

Personally, I’ve been researching and paying more attention to the triggers that create the emotional highs and lows for me as a founder. The biggest discovery I made about myself in the last year is that: I am an Empath (read: 30 traits of an Empath).

“Much like empaths, founders are always looking for continuous answers and knowledge.”

Once I understood that being an empath meant being affected by other people’s energies and having an innate ability to understand others intuitively, I began to see these same traits in other founders.

Many company founders tend to be incredibly passionate, and they tend to expose themselves to unnatural, emotional rollercoasters. They’re often surrounded by individuals they do not have an immediate connection with. They give every ounce of their energy to achieve the pursuit of happiness and success and often care deeply about the success of others. Much like an empath, a founder is always looking for continuous answers and knowledge.

How most people imagine empaths.

So here’s what I’ve learned so far about being an empath in a CEO role:

  1. I hire amazing people. Confession: I don’t know where most of my team has gone to school or even where they gained their prior work experience. In some cases, I couldn’t tell you why I hired a certain individual, but I just knew that it was the right person and my historical track record is pretty damn good (so far).
  2. I don’t let shit build up. I know most of the tells of the members of my team and will know if something is off and address it immediately. (Note to team: Don’t play poker with me)
  3. I (usually) make the right decisions. I’m not always great at explaining why certain decisions are the right ones… I just know and I also know when something feels like the wrong decision. (Pauly Ting once asked me: “Why do you make the decisions you do?” and I said “I don’t know — but I know”), but I’m actually quite calculated in my un-calculated decision-making, if that makes any sense.
  4. I know when someone is dishonest or disingenuous. This is incredibly helpful for many reasons on which I don’t need to elaborate.
  5. I can assess facts, situations quickly and make a decision/opinion with relative ease (it also does wonders for my sense of humor).
  6. I adapt. I know my communication style and can adapt as required for the situation that I am in. This has been instrumental in building meaningful connections no matter the people or the settings.
  7. I am and have always been very creative. Not just from an artistic point of view, but in finding even the smallest obscure angles to consider in decision-making
  8. I continuously strive to improve. I am never fully satisfied and always endeavour to improve on something or to learn something new. If I stop learning I die.
  9. I love animals — even cats (don’t judge).

And of course, there are downsides to being an empath and a CEO:

  1. Staying energized can be challenging. Being in groups is both energizing and absolutely draining. I consider myself an introverted extrovert. For example, a public presentation will typically give me a jolt of energy followed by the lowest of lows.
  2. Open environments don’t always work for me. I can get affected by how others around me are feeling, so when people are down, tired, or a little depressed — it rubs off of me. I typically try and keep the energy levels and positivity up at the office.
  3. I can also get deeply affected by World events, injustices, suffering, etc. (If I choose to) Sometimes I’ll read something or see something that will completely throw me off for the day. This has forced me to ignore things I should maybe be paying attention to (I’m looking at you Trumpster). Thankfully John Oliver helps me catch up on issues that matter.
  4. I find it difficult to rest or disconnect. This is not unique, as many founders would say the same thing, but my brain requires stimulation all the time — even when I’m already exhausted.
  5. Focusing on tasks can be difficult, especially if they are mundane, repetitive, but most importantly, not challenging.
  6. I can overthink or read too much into things that are not worth wasting my energy on. A very wise person once told me that a “great painter knows when it’s time to put down the brush” — Sometimes I have a hard time putting down the brush (hence the 20+ draft blog postings I have on Medium).

I still have a lot of work to do to understand this ability to intuitively feel and perceive, but if you found yourself relating to some, many, or all of the above, you should probably invest time in researching how and why it impacts you. It might even help you peel a few layers on the things that cause you to feel down-and-out, or even depressed — I know it has for me.

If you want to know what I first Googled to research this, it was: People who feel other people’s feelings, because it’s the only way I could describe it at the time. :)

… and If you didn’t relate to anythings above, you are probably a robot, which doesn’t mean you’re not cool — but I will NOT give you my clothes, boots, and motorcycle.