I’m reading a book about Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who created Zip2 (online business directories), PayPal (online global payment system), SpaceX (commercial rockets into space), Tesla (electric car) and chairs his cousin’s company Solarcity (commercial solar power generators). One of these would be enough for any person.  And he has even more outrageous plans for the future.

Musk seems to be maniacal, working 20-24 hr days and expecting others who work for him to follow his model to the extent possible. You could say he was crazy – many have.  Or that you couldn’t stand to work for him – almost everyone would agree with that.  But the fact is, he has created some amazing inventions that have – truly and literally – changed the way the world works or will work.  For that, he must be admired.

Over my working life, I’ve come in contact with lots of CEOs. My research has shown the importance of clear strategy and good leadership teams for organisations to be high performers.  But one thing that is rarely discussed in what makes organisations work well is the energy level of the CEO.

How do you measure the ‘energy level’? We don’t have any formal measures.  But observe your CEO.  My bet is that you will find they tend to work hard, particularly if they are any good.  In some research I did, a senior manager said CEOs were paid to work 7 days a week, senior managers to work 6 days a week and other people to work 5 days a week.  That would mean CEOs work 40% longer than employees and 17% longer than senior managers.  And that’s a key reason why most of us don’t want to be CEOs (or even senior managers).

Work Hard, Play Hard

Yet, somehow, as well as working 7 days a week, CEOs also play hard. They are in the gym early or late, cycling in packs on Saturday mornings, flying all over the world for adventure holidays, starting new businesses of their own on the side, buying and selling houses and other material assets and much, much more.  They talk about different things, at different levels.  When I meet them, I realise I am not interesting enough for them. My energy level doesn’t match theirs.  I find I know nothing of their worlds.  Their ways of thinking are too exhausting for me.

You can pick them quite early in their careers. They are organised, they get things done.   They are always rushing to other activities, events, tasks.  And they are always positive about all this.  No complaints of working too hard, of being too tired.  No, they love all that they do and fit in. They are always seeking new challenges.

Musk’s latest challenge is to build a hyperloop that takes a car between major cities faster than a plane. People say it can’t be done…but, given his track record, people are actually working on it.  and what he really wants to do is to colonise Mars.  Really.

What are your energy levels like?

So when you are thinking about your career and your prospects or perhaps what happened to you during your career, analyse your own energy levels.  Do you think of Friday as the end of the week and the weekend as a chance to wind down, watch the box, veg out?  Or do you think of Friday as the end of a type of day in the week and Saturday as another type of day, with different challenges and activities?  Or do you not distinguish much between any of the days of the week, as you are, or want to be, active/working every day and you mix personal pleasures into your week, regardless of what day it is?

There are jobs that suit all these types of people – it’s not a case of one type is ‘better’ than another. But if you think you want to be a senior manager or run a significant business, a five day week energy level won’t cut it.

And perhaps we should admire those people who sacrifice themselves to build businesses, like Musk is doing, which benefit the society and benefit employees because not many of us have the energy levels to actually do it, regardless of what our heads may tell us.


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