1. It can be lonely at the top.

Even though the CEO sits at the top of a large organization, building and maintaining genuine relationships is difficult – even impossible for some.

“There’s a lot of stuff you want to talk about and as CEO that’s just not appropriate to discuss with even your executive team,” Randy Emerson, CEO of Cascade Windows and Doors said. “It’s extremely lonely. That’s when you start looking for sounding boards — other people you respect and trust. As CEO, I’ve turned to building relationships completely outside my organization for the companionship everyone seeks.”

Bill Toler, former CEO of Advance Pierre, agrees. “It can be rather lonely. You have the responsibility of thousands of people depending on the decisions that you and your team make. No one else sits in your shoes — and that can be isolating.”

2. There is no magic black box.

“Your junior years you think there’s a black box that the people making decisions use — as if they put the data in and it spits out the decisions. But then as you grow, you realize there is no black box,” said Toler. “That’s a humbling day to realize this task is about thinking — and the quality of your and your team’s decision making makes a difference. It’s also the exciting part. You realize that if you do it right, you can win in the marketplace.”

3. Don’t believe everything you hear.

“The most important thing is that you get a variety of inputs from a number of people from different parts of the organization,” said Toler. “You want them to understand that you want the truth and not to feel better — that you’re looking for honest and genuine feedback from people. You don’t want to rely on one pipeline for critical topics. Getting input from numerous sources helps.”

Emerson said that finding solid sounding boards and genuine feedback inside an organization is one of the most difficult tasks for CEOs. “We humans have a tendency to tell people what they want to hear versus the facts,” he said.

4. Hire people you know could do your job better than you.

The best way to hire someone with straightforwardness is to grab your ego and throw it out the door, according to Emerson. “Hire the people you know are better than you. Hire people you know could take your job yesterday. The only way you’ll find those people is to lose your ego.”

5. Leave your ego at the door.

“At some point as CEO, you start to realize just how much you don’t know. As a true leader, to get to the truth and get the most done, you have to put ego aside. I can’t emphasize that enough,” Emerson said.