I'm a terrible leader

John came in and I could tell right away something was wrong because his head was down and he was not standing up straight. He was reluctant to talk when I asked what was wrong, but eventually told me we lost all our shelf space at the XYZ chain of stores. Our competitors now have that space. He said the competitors offered the buyer a better deal and extended payment terms.

When I asked why no one told me, he said because everyone knows I don’t like to hear bad news and will yell at the person who tells me something I don’t like. I started yelling at them immediately, telling them what idiots they are and that they should have told me. There was nothing to do now and I have would have to fire people. By not telling me, they hurt the business. I spend every waking hour doing things for them and they betrayed me.

I felt proud but so alone as a CEO until I joined a club for startup CEOs

I was the only one left in the office. It was past 11pm and I was tired. I looked around at all the desks and work spaces and thought how far we had come in the last year. I was proud and elated, but I also feel profoundly lonely. We had come a long way, but I felt like all the ideas and emotions has been drained out of me. I was giving everything I had and I was getting very little back. Yes, people appreciated what I was doing but I was the boss and I was becoming increasingly distant from my team. I felt I could no longer ask them for advice. It would be a sign of weakness.

We had investors and I have to deal with them. I also deal with all the larger sales accounts and the Board. All of this is taking increasing amounts of time. These relationship are often characterized by conflict and they are taking a toll on my nerves. I am always stressed out.

My wife looks after the children and has a part-time job so I can’t burden her with all this. I can’t talk tp my parents and my friends think I am some type of superman for getting this far and I don’t want to destroy that illusion.

As I sat there, my loneliness became overwhelming. I heard about a club for startup CEOs where people share stories and experiences. I attended a dinner and in one night, I realized that I was not alone anymore.

I couldn't separate myself from the success and failure of my business

While I’ve never been the best at anything, I know I have the potential to do great things. I wasn’t at the top of my class, I didn’t win any contests, and I wasn’t good at sports, but I have a burning desire to succeed. When I started a business I couldn’t afford to fail.

I had great people working with me and we had all the money we needed for the first two years. We focused on execution and customer and operational excellence. People loved the product. Everything was going really well. We won the outstanding entrepreneur of the year award.

Finally, I was the best at something. I was finally being recognized for my hard work and I was being recognized for the person I really am. I was nominated for more awards and asked to speak at conferences. The press would call me for quotes. I was on top of the world.

The recession hit us much worse than we expected. In six months, business was down 24% and we had to let people go. We had reached our credit limits. We staggered on for three more months and then had to call the administrators in to wrap everything up. We were finally sold to our major competitor for 10 cents on the dollar.

When the business died, I died. The business was me and I was the business. I feel like a total failure and I can’t get distance from what happened.

I'm worried that my work is all that defines me now

People who identify themselves by the jobs or positions they have seem so one-dimensional: “I am the CEO of Cosmetics.com.” For these people, what they are is who they are. They define themselves by their job and have no identity outside of it. They’ve surrendered themselves to it and there is no work-life balance.

Am I becoming one of these people?

I'm having a very difficult time dealing with conflict in my team

I hate conflict. I have been like that since I was young. It’s not that I want to please everyone or have everyone as a friend, but I hate conflict.

We have four people in the business. I thought about us as a team and I never imagined real teams having conflict. When people disagreed I did not know if it was personal or business. The more this happened, the more withdrawn I became.

I’ve now reached the stage where asking people to do something makes my stomach turn. If I’m going to stay in business I think I need to see a therapist.