Each year Inc. carries out research with some of the nation’s top private company CEOs focusing on the areas of business launch, growth and innovation. It provides a fascinating snapshot into the lives of the people behind these fast-growth companies. And for aspiring leaders, it reveals just how hard, and how much hard work, being a CEO can be.

Be sure to take some time to read through all areas of the report. The sections on social media use, focus in innovation and leadership potential provide plenty of food for thought. But I’d like to focus on the first section – what does that first year as a CEO look like? What works and what doesn’t. And importantly, what can we learn to help make our own businesses better.


Based on this research, 33% of CEOs felt that entrepreneurship suited their skills and capabilities. Another 11% wanted to be their own boss and 10% wanted financial success.

Think about this for a moment. Only 18% of CEOs were motivated by an idea. This flies in the face of what we hear about entrepreneurial culture or the cult of the startup and has some salient lessons for leaders. In fact, I am pleased to see that the vast majority of CEOs in the survey are motivated by other factors – especially internal, motivating forces. For when we are faced with the hard choices that leadership requires, ideas seem less important, while solid, internal principles and goals can help see us through.

What do some of the other statistics reveal?

  • Leadership is collaborative: Forty-seven percent launched or run their business as a partnership. And 77% of those in a partnership are collaborating with close friends or family members.
  • Leadership is not a one-off event: Only 5% of those surveyed had never started a business before. An amazing 72% of CEOs had started two or more businesses previously, with 4% indicating that they’d started 10 businesses.
  • Capital and talent are hard: Amongst the “biggest mistakes” made, hiring poorly (bad fit with employee) and insufficient capital easily out-ranked issues with product, spending/burn or partnership issues.
  • Leadership means long hours: Forty two percent of CEOs worked more than 80 hours a week. It changes over time, but don’t expect that being the boss comes without personal sacrifices. Keep an eye on your health and commitments.

Nina Nets It Out: Many aspire to be CEOs, but there are true costs to leadership, especially in the early years of business building. Be sure to understand the benefits and costs – and to build a solid team around you before you decide to push ahead. And always, always, stick to your principles.