Late last year I wrote an article on the key factors that determine the value of your business. We covered aspects that would be fairly obvious to those outside of your organisation, such as potential investors and customers - industry growth, innovation, brand, revenue and your team. But one indisputable ingredient vital to the success of any business may in fact be somewhat invisible to most. And it’s all in your head.
CEO psychology is a seriously important factor that will impact your health and your bottom line. What you tell yourself every day matters. It sets the tone for everything else that follows.
Business leaders are often seen as the tough guys of business and mental health isn’t commonly discussed. But there are many reasons leaders need to tune in and learn to control their thoughts…
1. Shit Happens
Things go wrong. You have competitors, customers, employees, expenses, fluctuating markets. You’re always dealing with issues. If you manage a team of a few, you may find this manageable. But if you manage an organisation of hundreds, or thousands of people, it could be a constant in your daily life. Once your company gets to a certain size, your team will do stupid things. You'll be amazed. And to rub salt into the wound, it’s your fault.
Yet how you respond matters. Many leaders take things too personally, while others don’t take them personally enough. Finding that balance is important. You need to take responsibility for the situation, but not link it to your self worth. You need to think rationally and develop a solution that fixes the problem. It may be team education, a new process, a customer apology. It can be difficult but it's almost always recoverable with the right attitude.
2. It’s a Rollercoaster Ride
Talk about high’s and low’s. One day you’re flying. You’ve secured your biggest contract ever and it’s set to be hugely profitable. The next day a key supplier apologises they won’t be able to deliver a component on time, maybe ever. And your senior project manager hands in her notice.
The high’s are easy to deal with. You celebrate them and move on. The low’s are different. You dwell on them, often.
3. It’s Lonely at the Top
Ultimately it’s your neck on the chopping block. You may have support from a board, but the success or failure of any decision will be yours and yours alone. And when you ask for an opinion from friends or colleagues they may not be able to provide a fully considered response, simply because they don't have all the information. You are generally the only person that knows enough to make the call. This can be exciting, but it's also stressful and needs to be managed.
4. The Rewards Can Be Huge
The good news is, you’re the conductor of this orchestra and have the opportunity to make it brilliant. With all that responsibility comes the potential of massive reward, both personal and financial. So if you look after your mental health and realise that when you are calm, centred and rational in your decision making, the business will reflect that attitude and things will really start to flow.
So what can you do to help yourself?
7 STEPS TO MENTAL CLARITY
There are a few techniques that I’ve applied with clients and myself over the years. Let me preface this by saying that I appreciate we're all different. We respond differently to stressful situations and may naturally be more or less emotionally fuelled by certain events or attitudes. So the following is simply a list of ideas that I've found helpful. Maybe they'll work for you too...
1. Find a Friend
This is not to have someone else make the tough decisions for you, but to spend time with others who have faced or are facing similar circumstances. If you're not quite ready to work one-on-one with your own business advisor, networking groups can be highly beneficial... especially if they consist of business leaders in similar sized organisations within non competitive industries. The non competitive nature makes it easier to discuss matters openly and you’ll be surprised how many of these issues are universal. Be vulnerable (but try not to cry). You’ll learn much faster.
Your partner can also be a great sounding board for some things, just not everything. A networking group helps you share the load.
2. Write It Down
This is one you've no doubt heard many times, but it's still often ignored. Get it out of your head and onto paper. Everything seems bigger in your own mind. Write down your ideas, your concerns and then tackle each one individually. Develop a process for evaluating the validity of new ideas and a similar process for addressing issues. Then implement. Your new networking group, or a business advisor can be a great resource for creating these types of processes. For example a simple worst case scenario exercise can be extremely helpful. It'll help you assess the probability of a certain outcome as well as identify a possible solution.
Then once you’re done with that list, write another list. Everything you’re grateful for. You'll soon realise most of our problems are embarrassingly first world.
3. Start Something
After you’ve written it all down, get started on something and really throw yourself into it. Achievement kicks fear (presenting as stress) in the butt.
4. Focus on the Road not the Wall
During an interview with SUCCESS magazine, the legendary F1 driver, Mario Andretti was asked for his number one tip for success in race car driving. He said, “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.” So stick to your plan, ignore the haters, stop worrying about what you’re trying to avoid and focus on the road ahead.
And if you really can’t get your head straight on any particular day, go home. Get out of everyone else's way and recharge. Leaving a problem behind can be the fastest way to realise its solution.
5. Have a Vice
Identify what drives you - away from work. It may be exercise, drawing, volunteering, even video games. Top up your dopamine levels with a healthy, safe vice and do it regularly. It can be cheaper and more therapeutic than traditional therapy.
6. Customers Over Competitors
Be aware, but not obsessive about your competitors. This links to the concept of focusing on the road not the wall. Spending too much time thinking about your competitors will run you into the ground. Instead, focus on your customers. Email, call, ask questions, find out what they want, how you can make it better. You'll get some great ideas and be inspired by positive feedback. It's all good.
7. Be Inspired and Laugh More
Go to Youtube or find a podcast that you find highly inspirational. Then watch or listen a little each morning. It'll have a hugely positive impact on your day.
And in your downtime watch some good comedy. Laughing more helps put everything in perspective. Plus at a physical level, it's been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, while releasing 'feel good' endorphins. Laughter also boosts the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells, leading to a stronger immune system.
There is little success where there is little laughter.
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