There’s a friend of mine who I met because in different points in time, we shared the same nightmarish job. It was a short stint for both of us, that left marks and war stories.

After a few hit and miss plan we got together for a beer and catch up. We end up talking about all sorts of growing pains, for people and for startups.

You see, this guy had a front row seat to a startup that got some huge investment. He saw the bad, the awesome and everything in between.

The growing pains he was talking about were the ones that came from a successful investment round and subsequent hiring of more people. “Now, it’s make it or break it”, he said.

At this point of the conversation, I went back to an episode of Freaknomics called What does a CEO actually do?. On one point, he manages change and solves some daily atritions, on the other he focuses on keeping investors happy.

This is part of a whole series of what it is like to be a CEO. It’s well worth the listen. The secret life of CEOs

And the problem is, no one is taught how to be a CEO. And everyone interviewed in the series, from Mark Zuckerberg, to Richard Branson and Ellen Pao has their own different style and focus.

When a company faces a moment of make it or break it, it’s the CEO who needs to keep everyone aligned and pushing in the same direction. It’s not easy and we came to the conclusion that those things and other latent problems tend to ooze in and affect the other levels of the company.

Top management becomes stressed and pushes their teams harder. The teams feel low recognition and lose motivation. For startups this is an even bigger problem, because sometimes all the knowledge on how to run the business is resting on people at the operational level. It may feel this isn’t a big deal because you can hire top guns to manage sales, marketing, customer support, etc. Yet, per their nature, startups life in a bleeding edge market where lessons learned mean valuable knowledge, that any recent hire to a management position needs to grasp fast or risk missing objectives.

In cases where the operational team feels neglected, growing pains will magnify all the little problems into medium and big ones. Resumés start going out, future and desires get evaluated again, and at some point it’s not about the money but about the desire to see their value recognized.

And so, people leave.

These growing pains make you feel like you need more room to grow, more opportunities to learn and you’re willing to risk it if you can find a way to keep your lifestyle or make only a few adjustments.

And growing pains also happen in a personal level, even if everything is going smooth.

In a quick summary, I told him about the time when I worked for Fullsix and how the only reason I left was because the structure I was in didn’t allow for growth. It was not because I was mad at the people, or didn’t like the job. It was because I needed to keep growing as a professional, even if it hurt me.

And it did.

It was after that time that I found myself in the company where he had been in. A place that turned out to be so toxic that several of my coworkers developed heavy depressions and other problems from the anxiety and stress created by top management. Those were our shared growing pains.

We both agreed that at some point our self esteem was so low that we didn’t think we could ever be good professionals. Time showed us otherwise.

The touch point between the two perspectives are the growing pains, and the biggest difference is the outcome. While people can face hardships and move on, become stronger or find room to grow somewhere else. The same is not true for companies. Brands and organizations can die when they aren’t able to hold a steady course.

If on one hand that responsibility rests in the shoulders of the CEO, in these times of startups and heavy risk, we should keep in mind they are human too. As humans, they are most likely doing their best and at the same time facing their growing pains without much of a chance to quit and move on to something else.

avatar Bruno Amaral
Bruno Amaral

I am a Digital Strategist, divided between tech and creativity, working for the Lisbon Collective and teaching Public Relations at the …