This article originally appeared in Success.com on August 17, 2016.
As an entrepreneur, I am fascinated by how leaders make decisions and manage their emotions, and what traits separate the good from the great entrepreneurs. To better understand myself and keep on learning, I’ve been writing a journal for the last 16 years. In the journal I address the following:
- What are my top concerns?
- How do I feel about them?
- What viable options do I have to address my existing challenges?
- What is likely to happen in the future based on my past experiences?
It’s a practice I recommend to any budding (or seasoned) entrepreneur. It’s an effective way of reflecting, learning and enhancing your skills. I recently reflected on the question of why entrepreneurs experience significant emotional volatility and why at times it feels gut-wrenching. To my surprise the negative emotions associated with entrepreneurship that were felt the most frequently were fear, doubt and regret.
Fear manifests itself from multiple sources. It can be the fear of making the wrong decision, the uncertainty of pursuing the right strategy, hiring the wrong person, being judged, losing a big customer, getting fired by the board, not being able to raise the next financing round or simply failing the organization as a leader.
Fear is human. Without fear we would be reckless and insensitive. To manage our fear, we need to:
- As with other emotions, we need to be aware of it.
- Use the emotional and rational side of our brains to analyze the underlying cause of that fear. Is it really justified?
- Assess whether the rational analysis is aligned or disconnected from our emotional fear.
If the rational analysis demonstrates that actual risks are low, use your analysis to diminish your perceived fear. Try to shift your mindset by using logical arguments to tame your unjustified negative emotions. I often tell my teams, “When risk is low, fear must go.” If on the other hand your analysis reveals stakes are high and you feel it, it might be wiser to mitigate that risk.
The ability to adapt and veer in the right direction is a critical trait of effective entrepreneurs, and fear is the best inner compass we have. Wise entrepreneurs embrace fear to better manage outcomes.
When you doubt, you’re not sure of what to do or believe. It’s a sign that you need to explore more. It’s a confirmation of uncertainty that requires you to find ways to minimize it by seeking more inputs. The input can be through more analysis, research and talking to experts on the subject matter. To get value out of the input, the one skill you must have is the ability to listen empathetically from multiple sources and consider them in your final judgement.
I highly recommend building a network of professionals you can consult with. Join leadership organizations; attend trade shows and conferences to widen your network; hire consultants if required. Being able to tap into a large pool of different domain experts will multiply your inputs.
Next time you feel doubt, just remember that it’s a sign you need more information. Aim to embrace and overcome doubt and it will ultimately lead to better decisions and make you a better entrepreneur.
Regret comes from reflection; reflection induces learning. Regret is what allows you to retrieve lessons, feel them emotionally and embed the learning in your long-term memory. When you find yourself in a similar situation you regretted, you will feel it, and ideally take a different course of action.
Regret gives you closure on a decision that you’ve made in the past, knowing it was not the best choice and that you could have acted differently. Without closure, the learning is not visceral enough, so it’s unlikely to become part of your intuition. As entrepreneurs, if we want to learn throughout our journey, we need to ponder and embrace regret so we can drive continuous improvements.
Let these emotions guide you rather than cripple you. Good entrepreneurs have the ability to feel, reflect and adjust to continue learning. Next time you encounter negative emotions, remember the positive side of the coin. Leadership is a lifelong journey and those who excel find the positives in the midst of perceived adversity.