A key employee quit. My board is breathing down my neck. A key customer isn’t renewing their contract. I didn’t get the term sheet I wanted. I dropped the ball. Sound familiar?
Building a company is emotional. Things go wrong. And sometimes you get pissed. From first-time entrepreneurs to serial entrepreneurs, it happens to the best of us. Wars are won battle-to-battle. And in my experience, I’ve learned that the difference between the winners and losers is how they handle tough situations.
Does that mean that we need to become unemotional and robotic in order to lead? Nope. The same passion that makes us upset, also fuels our unique ability to create something from nothing. Passion is necessary for entrepreneurship, but not sufficient. The key to being a great leader is not to avoid emotion, but to avoid letting it get the best of you when dealing with investors, employees, and customers.
Here are a few simple tactics I’ve adopted over the course of my entrepreneurial journey to circumvent the proverbial land mines of emotion.
Write the nasty email. Early in my career, I would sometimes send knee-jerk emotional emails. I had a (tough) customer that was trying to squeeze work out of us for free. I fired one off and nearly lost the business. While these often felt right to send in the moment, they rarely set me up for the win. So I found a way to experience the feeling of catharsis that comes from this process without suffering the consequences. When I run into an issue that fires me up, I write the nasty email. Except when I’m done, I don’t hit send. I save the email to a draft folder and look at it later. To this day, I am often surprised at how glad I am that I didn’t send it. More importantly, a better way to resolve the situation almost always seems to present itself when I return to business zen.
Call a lifeline. A trap I’ve sometimes fallen into is believing that being a great entrepreneur means having all the answers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Great entrepreneurship is about winning. And winning hasn’t always meant that I had the right answer. Instead, it means that I’ve needed to find the answer and make it happen -- fast. A simple solution is to form a network of advisors. Whether they’re formally engaged or just smart friends, a broad and diverse support network has helped steer me through many hot-button challenges. Make sure you keep these folks regularly briefed. If you don’t, they won’t have the right context to help you out of a jam. I’ve also made sure this support network includes advisors that are not actively involved in management or my board.
Take a walk. Just because the the web enables us to communicate in real time, it doesn’t mean that we have to. When I get caught up in an emotional situation (especially one where I am the most charged up), I’ve learned that it’s OK to hit pause. I had a really tough management call one afternoon that took me off my game. Rather than bringing negative energy into my next meeting, I walked away -- literally. A quick five to 10 minute jaunt outside does wonders. When that isn’t an immediate option, I take a mental walk. First, I take a deep breath. Then I shift my focus from responding to listening. It is amazing to me how much trying to focus on truly listening defuses even the most complex of matters.
Focus on the next play. Even the best quarterbacks drop the ball. I know I have, and I’ll likely do it again. If you say or do something you regret, then accept it, sincerely. You’re a human being and you make mistakes. I’ve found that the most critical move when I’m playing a high-impact, fast-paced game like business building is to move on quickly to the next immediate action with conviction.
One of my lifelines, Ted Leonsis, once asked me a question that helped define my entrepreneurial journey, “Do you want to be right or do you want to win?” Great entrepreneurs want to win. But remember, great entrepreneurs are human. You’re going to get pissed, it’s OK. Just keep in mind that, sometimes, the winning move is no move at all. And if you drop the ball, keep playing and remember to have fun along the way.
Related: How to Harness Your Emotions