The Emotional CEO

Leann Pereira Perspectives from the Field


One day, not too long ago, I founded a company and named myself the CEO.

Allow me to be honest with you about this: I am a reluctant CEO. I am a woman in my early forties. I have a twelve year old son who constantly challenges me. I'm divorced. I'm a doctoral student. I'm not a perfect beacon of unyielding authority, steadfastness, honor or discipline and certainly don't have unlimited time or unlimited anything. So, how and why did I put myself in this position?

emotional leadershipI realize that I have some very strong and positive qualities. I am unafraid to advocate for myself and what I feel is right and I am very curious about what happens to us when we reveal our personal truths to others. I believe magic happens when honesty meets receptive hearts. I also have an immutable expectation for a successful life. These qualities together compel me by forces beyond my own control to move forward, to learn and strive for more. And recently, something happened that pushed me over the edge and into my own company: I got my heart broken.

I work as a consultant to start-ups who want to build a recruiting department. Amongst other things, the job involves going in to other people's companies to help business leaders build their dream teams. The crux of my work as a recruiter is very emotional. It involves asking people to entrust their career hopes and dreams with me as I walk with them through new doors. My own passion for growth and achievement, coupled with genuine belief in the power of the company, enables me to create a compelling vision for the future. I share this vision with prospective candidates and I'm rewarded with work commitments from highly talented people. And then, the hiring is done, my job is finished and I move on. I don't get to see how the story unfolds.

It diminishes a person to continually walk away from relationships. When I do so, I feel I abandon the emotional capital I work hard to establish with others - the belief that bound us to the possibility of creating something excellent and new. When my last project ended I was heartbroken when it was time to say goodbye. After that, I decided that I could no longer simply walk away from my work. I think it is time for me to put aside the model of building relationships and dreams on behalf of others and to start to build these things for myself, to keep in my own company.

"Understanding the power of our emotions can lead us to change the way we work."

I am proposing that it may be possible to conceptualize entrepreneurship as an investment of emotional capital, not just financial or social capital. According to research done by Cohoon, Wadhwa and Mitchell (2010), women entrepreneurs rely heavily on business partners for emotional support, much more than our male counterparts. This along with other research finds that women tend to finance business ventures with money from personal savings, or to take money from business partners, family and friends. Men, on the other hand, fund ventures by seeking capital from institutions. Women, more than men, rely heavily on personal contacts for emotional and professional support when starting businesses, whereas men are more likely to choose professionally trained partners outside of their immediate social circles (Nelson, Maxfield & Kolb, 2009). Therefore it is reasonable to infer that women entrepreneurs' emotional bonds and close personal relationships provide the foundation upon which economic capital is built, for better or worse.

It does not surprise me that I have decided to start a business based on the power of my emotion. In fact, Jim Collins in "Good to Great" says that the strongest businesses will choose the right people, sometimes even before deciding on a product. It’s the “first who, then what” principal. This seems like it could be a highly emotional decision to me. Remember, being emotional is not the same as being irrational!