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'CEOs are made, not born'

You might not believe that the CEO of a large organisation could suffer from confidence and anxiety issues but they can. I know because I am one and I do. Or at least, I did.  

The popular conception of a business leader is still that they need to be superhuman. But people who lead organisations are humans. CEOs are made, not born.

I’m very passionate about the area I work in, and have good technical knowledge, administrative ability and good people skills, at least on a one-on-one basis. I was appointed CEO, after all. But these skills I have fall away if I ever have to talk to a large room of people, or to the media or when I have to demonstrate what, these days, are called leadership skills. And I know that I have to do all these things as the head of the organisation. The people I work with look to me to lead, I have leadership KPIs to answer, which come with the territory. 

I know that some of my colleagues had concerns about me cancelling media appointments and delegating someone else for a large speaking event. Knowing their criticisms only added to the pressure. 

Things came to a head when I was due to launch a high-profile report. I had what I now know was a panic attack: I was sweating, couldn’t breathe properly, the room swirled and I almost physically ran away. I was able to get one of my colleagues to stand in for me but I knew then that I had to seek help. 

I had a number of sessions with a psychologist, who was both an expert in anxiety and, being an organisational psychologist, was also someone who knew the business world I operated in. They were skilled in helping would-be business leaders become the real thing. 

Sessions involved me digging deep to understand where my anxieties were coming from and why. This, in turn, helped me manage them and we came up with a number of strategies that helped me get on top of my shyness, anxiety and what I now also know were agoraphobic tendencies. 

The outcome has been win-win. I feel like I am now more of leader, which means that I can actually lead my organisation in a genuine way and I am more at home in my own skin. I guess, having visited a psychologist, I feel like I’m more ‘me’ than I ever have before.