I can’t tell you what other CEOs do, but I can tell you what my job is like.

My job is to go down into the weeds, come out of the weeds, go into the weeds, come out of the weeds, into weeds, out of weeds, in weeds, out weeds, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in out in out in out inoutinoutinoutinoutinoutinout.

Without going insane.

That’s the best summary I can think of.

I’ve got to get completely down into the nitty gritty details of one specific customer’s right-now problem.  Then turn on a dime, pull back, and think about revenue projections down the road, major industry changes, how to define our category, generationally shifting customer personas, etc. etc.

I can’t let the specific problems get in my head when I’m thinking big picture or it will limit my vision, cause undue stress, loss of focus, and regression.  On the flipside, when we’ve got a right-now problem that’s hot, I can’t be half in my head about the big picture.  I have to be laser focused on it, in the moment fully, and care about it like it’s all the matters.  Because it is.  Until the next minute when it’s not and I can’t afford to think it is.

It’s fundamentally a schizophrenic role.

Imagine a hiker with an inner monologue like this:

“Raise your gaze to the mountains, man!  What do you see?  How will we get there?  Dammit, look down at the path you moron!  Sidestep that pit, don’t stub your toe on that rock.  Head down.  Head up you idiot! You’re wandering off the path!  What’s wrong with you, you just stepped in that puddle because you looked up?!”

It requites a lot of psychological and emotional agility, and maybe a higher-than-healthy tolerance for crazy.

We all know the more business wisdom you have, the more metaphors you use, so here’s another.

You’re on the Good Ship Company.  You can’t have everyone star-gazing.  You’ll run aground, forget to adjust the sails, or leave leaky planks unattended and sink the whole damn thing.

But you do have to navigate by the stars.  You can’t have everyone adjusting, repairing, and perfecting the ship without looking at where they’re going or you’ll end up where Thar Be Dragons, or worse, nowhere at all.

Division of labor is necessary, but not sufficient.  Navigators navigate, deck hands maintain the ship.  But the captain has to remind the even navigator to take stock of deck conditions from time to time, and adjust course based on what she can handle.  The deck hands need to raise their eyes to the horizon every so often, if nothing else to remember why it is these barnacles need scraping in the first place.

You need different people to do different tasks at different times, and you need to get them to occasionally shift their awareness and connect their tasks with all the others.  The captain’s job is to decide who needs to be looking up and looking down and when.  Which means you’re looking up and down and scanning everyone else side to side as they look up and down.  Constantly.

Without going (fully) insane.

I love it.  I don’t know if it’s a personality thing, but this is my favorite kind of challenge.  It’s a brutal and beautiful mix of earth and sky.

My company is a young, growing non-tech startup and I have no previous CEO experience, so take or don’t take my perspective for what it is or isn’t worth.