Every Exceptional CEO Has This Rare Characteristic

8 min read
Jul 29, 2022

The business world can be downright UGLY.

The rug can pull out from underneath you and turn your life upside down at any moment.

Your best defense against the nature of business is a strong character.

Ultimately, your customers, network, and mentors will not save you; the only thing that will is the quality of your character.

CEOs who survive catastrophes are the ones with the most exceptional characters.

What makes an exceptional character?

I am sharing the most crucial yet rarely seen or talked about trait a CEO can have to build a strong character.

Without this trait, a CEO will likely:

  • Succumb to pressure
  • Watch their business sink
  • Fail to achieve their mission

Confidence, trustworthiness, and work ethic are essential, but they will only take you so far.

Only exceptional CEOs have this trait to weather any storm that hits them.


Every CEO Needs a High Pain Tolerance


The most crucial yet rarely talked about CEO characteristic is a high pain tolerance.

People do not like to talk about pain tolerance because it sounds unpleasant.

Who wants to talk about pain when it comes to business?

Why talk about pain when we can talk about how fun it is to be your own boss and follow your passion?

While online social media gurus will spew all the good things about business, I am not beating around the bush.

The truth is that running a business involves pain, and every CEO needs a high pain tolerance to survive.


Pain Tolerance = The Ability to Withstand Storms.

Having a high pain tolerance does not mean you do not feel pain.

Everybody feels pain; people who tell you they do not feel it or that it does not exist in business are putting on a front.

Instead, having a high pain tolerance means you feel pain and keep moving forward even when it hurts.

Moreover, high pain tolerance is about withstanding the inevitable business storms and not breaking.


Having a High Pain Tolerance Is Not About Ignoring Storms

Having a high pain tolerance does not mean you pretend it does not exist.

Pretending pain does not exist is a sign of weakness.

An obvious sign you are ignoring pain is when you wake up every day and jump into the grind.

The grind is the mode in which you put your head down and work, ignoring everything else, even when it bothers you.

I am not saying that putting your head down and working hard is bad.

Instead, I am saying that putting your head down and working while ignoring all the problems around you is nonsense.

Because the longer problems go unaddressed, the more problematic they become.

Furthermore, a high pain tolerance is about recognizing pain instead of ignoring it and consciously choosing to press forward despite it.


CEOs Need Higher Pain Tolerances Than Everyone Else


Simply put, CEOs need higher pain tolerances than almost any other group of people.


Because being a CEO requires an insane amount of discomfort.

Pain in business = discomfort.  When CEOs feel pain, they are really feeling discomfort.

If you know anything about human nature, it DESPISES discomfort.

Furthermore, here is why CEOs need higher pain tolerances than almost anyone else.


Failure Is an Inevitable Part of the Process

First, failure is an inevitable part of the business process.

CEOs confront potential failure more than others because they have to take on higher risks.

When I say failure, I do not mean total business demise where the CEO sells their house and lives on the street.

Instead, I am talking about failing to reach sales quota for several consecutive months or completely missing the mark on a product launch.

That said, every CEO experiences at least some degree of failure.

Failure (and even the thought of it) is more than enough to make CEOs extremely uncomfortable.  AKA, it makes CEOs feel an intense amount of pain.

While failure is not necessarily bad, it still makes most CEOs cringe just thinking about it!

Without a high pain tolerance, CEOs get crushed under the pressure of failure (or even the thought of it potentially happening).


Customers and Acquaintances Will Reject You

Second, not everybody will like or appreciate what a CEO brings to the table.

And, who cares?

Just because a handful of people out of almost 8 billion reject you or your ideas does not mean anything negative about you.

However, being rejected by customers and supposedly close friends still does not feel good.

Similarly to failure, the thought of rejection alone is enough to make CEOs feel intense pain.

But, again, rejection is inevitable in business!

Unless CEOs have the pain tolerance to survive rejection, it will overcome them.


Uncertainty Is Certain

Finally, the world is highly uncertain.

The business world is even more uncertain.

Will there be a recession tomorrow or next year?

Will markets trend in the direction you expect them to trend?

Will your team members get up tomorrow and stage a walkout?

Who knows!

Unfortunately for CEOs, uncertainty brings about an intense amount of discomfort.

It feels painful to take risks when the world is so uncertain.  However, CEOs have to take risks to survive.

CEOs do not have the same certainty as traditional nine to fivers who can rely (at least somewhat) on a regular paycheck and healthcare.

Without a high tolerance for the pain of uncertainty, CEOs cannot survive.


Why Most CEOs Do Not Have High Pain Tolerances


You are more likely to find high pain tolerance in CEOs than in the general population.

However, pain tolerance within the business world is becoming increasingly rare.


It comes down to three reasons:

  1. Increasing levels of comfort
  2. The influence of online gurus
  3. Avoiding the truth at all costs

Here is why having a high pain tolerance is extremely rare these days:


The World Is More Comfortable Than Ever

First, the modern world is more abundant than ever.

Thanks to increasing abundance, more people live more comfortable lives than ever before.  

Consider this: People wake up in temperature-controlled homes, sit in a comfortable desk chair all day, and then lay on the couch until they go to bed.

Meanwhile, they can order food on demand at the touch of a phone button.

Increasing comfort levels causes pain tolerance to decrease.

I am not calling out the luxuries of the modern world.  

However, I cannot ignore that having more luxuries at our fingertips 24/7 does decrease pain tolerance.

That said, comfort creep is one of the primary culprits of pain tolerance scarcity.


Most CEOs Are Lied To

Second, online business gurus spew more nonsense today than ever before.

While gurus do some good in the world, they also do an abundance of bad.

Specifically, gurus do not display the realities of being a business owner.

In reality, running a business requires extreme dedication, persistence, and pain.  

However, you do not see almost any gurus displaying these realities.

Instead, you see them sitting on the beach with their laptop, fanning themselves with money and drinking a margarita.

As a result, most people falsely perceive what business ownership is like in reality. 

Once people get into the business of business, they realize that it is not all about sitting on beaches making commands from a laptop.

Unfortunately, the damage is done! 

Their warped perception of business decreased their pain tolerance before they even knew it.


CEOs Intentionally Ignore the Reality of Business.

Finally, many CEOs intentionally choose to ignore the realities of being a business owner.

They see that running a business is oftentimes unpleasant.

Then they ignore the unpleasantness because it is easier to ignore than face.

The longer a CEO ignores reality, the lower their pain tolerance gets.

How do you expect to be successful in business if you cannot even face the reality of business?

If most people knew the reality of running a business, they would never do it.


How to Build a High Pain Tolerance to Become a More Effective CEO


CEOs who have high pain tolerances built them, they were NOT born that way.

That is good news for you!

Anybody who wants to have a higher tolerance can build it.

Do not think for a second that people with high pain tolerances are born that way!

That said, here is how you can build the rarest, ultra-critical characteristic of high pain tolerance.

Remember, being a business owner is harder than most people make it out; you will not survive in the long run unless you can weather storms.

Are you ready to weather storms, or will you let the first one you encounter blow you over?


Take More Action Than Ever Before (Important!)

Taking more action than ever is the key to building a high pain tolerance.

For example, making additional cold calls or following up with prospects more diligently than ever.

Do you think professional athletes build high pain tolerances by sitting on the sidelines?

Or do they build a high pain tolerance because they take more action than everyone and get used to the feeling?

Of course, they build a high tolerance to pain because they get used to experiencing it on a daily basis.

That said, you need to take more action to increase your tolerance.

Action creates pain; the more often you experience pain, the more you become used to it.

The more you get used to pain, the less it bothers you.

You do not need to go to extremes to increase tolerance!

Instead, all you need to do is double the amount of work you are currently doing.


Humble Yourself

It is easy to forget just how vulnerable we are when times are good.

Almost nobody who feels on top of the world stops and thinks about how they could tumble to the bottom at any moment.

That said, building up pain tolerance is also a matter of humbling yourself.

People who can tolerate pain in business do not think they are above bad or painful things happening to them.

Instead, they wake up every day realizing that anything, good or bad, can happen to them.

As a result, they are less likely to succumb to pain when a difficult situation hits.

Contemplating our vulnerability as a method of building pain tolerance is nothing new.

Thousands of years ago, ancient stoic philosophers, including Marcus Aurelius, suggested contemplating our death more.


Contemplating death is extremely humbling.  Recognizing the harsh reality that everyone will die reduces the odds of reacting emotionally to painful situations.

When you recognize that bad things can and will happen, you are less likely to panic once they do happen.

That said, humble yourself every once in a while.

The next time you find yourself at the top of a mountain, be grateful for the moment and remind yourself what it is like to be at the bottom.


Play to Win Instead of Not to Lose

Here is the kicker: When most CEOs come to their senses and realize how ugly the business world can be, they back into a corner.

Instead of going all in, they go half way.

Moreover, they play the business game not to lose instead of to win.

It is as if they are on defense mode 100% of the time instead of offense.

NOBODY ever wins the game while playing on defense.

Yes, you have to be ready to defend your territory, but you will never score unless you take the ball and run it.

That said, play the game like you want to win it instead of not lose it!

Will you get tackled every once in a while?

Yes, but is getting tackled a few times worse than losing the entire game?

Definitely not.


Final Thoughts: The Most Important Characteristic of Exceptional CEOs


Again, the business world is downright ugly.

While others will beat around the bush, I will not: You cannot succeed in business without a high pain tolerance.

More than that, you cannot even weather the basic storms in business without having a high tolerance.

Thankfully, nobody is born with high pain tolerance.

The only way you get stronger is through developing the trait.

That said, are you prepared to weather the storms (because they will certainly come)?

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