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Mindfulness and the Startup CEO

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Startup companies are stressed by limited resources and, consequently, a limited margin of error. The founders believe they have identified a business opportunity by creating a new product or addressing an untapped market. Proving that is the challenge of the startup CEO, a process likely to require years of ulcer-causing uncertainty related to market acceptance, the next funding round, or the ability to attract and retain key personnel. Each day, the question looms: “Will our new venture succeed before our money runs out?”  

Critically important to startup success is the CEO’s “mindfulness.” The startup CEO needs the ability to accept and adapt to changing, often difficult circumstances. The mindful startup CEO guides his or her venture with clear, intuitive decision making, finding quiet time to consider relevant facts and find intuitive insights. Mindfullness helps the startup CEO avoid knee-jerk reactions that undermine effective leadership.

Related: Master Your Zen to Improve a Startup's Cash Flow

Mindful leaders do not mistake motion for effective action. They consider process without distraction from the hoped for result. The mindful, action-driven CEO addresses organizational issues with purposeful focus, clarity and intuition derived from experience. They return to the company’s mission statement for guideance. It is helpful to methodically consider:

  • What is the market size?
  • What is the expected sales cycle in months?
  • Who are the entrenched competitors?
  • Who are the potential partners?
  • What are the new market’s pain points?
  • Who are the organizational decision-makers regarding a purchase?
  • Do we have the right people, bandwidth and capital to address a new vertical?
Mindful decisions require some quiet time, not a meditative retreat or a week of silence. Contemplative thought and earnest listening in the face of uncertainty is the path to the right action. The CEO of a startup who dives deeply into the variables surrounding new challenges and potential strategies will provide purposeful leadership.

Startup CEOs are naturally preoccupied, thinking and worrying about their new venture. Standing at the helm of a new business can dominate a person’s thinking, day and night. Sometimes a good idea crystallizes in an email sent at 3 am but, through the years working with many CEOs, we find the sleep-deprived, work-obsessed, financially stressed, ego-at-risk CEO is not making the best decisions. It seems counterintuitive to tell that CEO to “take a break” but the company needs at the helm a healthy individual who can interact and communicate with others appropriately. Anxiety and stress can be the downfall of the CEO and of the startup business.

We’ve identified five key abilities exhibited by successful CEO’s.

1. Value good sleep. Don’t look for answers in the ceiling at 2 am. Find activities that help you leave the issues of the day behind so you can sleep longer and deeper. Meditate, listen to music, go for a evening walk. If nothing else, unplug from technology a few hours before bed. Poor sleep leads to poor decisions.

2. Separate work from life. Keep the turmoil of your venture at the office. Build your business, identify new opportunities, hold effective meetings but do not stop living your life. Occasionally take a vacation!

3. Focus on process over results and follow a plan. A disciplined process leads to a positive result. As the results provide market feedback, contemplate, accept and develop a fully integrated action plan.

4. Create a culture through mindful leadership. The company’s goal, driven by its product and culture, should improve  people’s lives, not simply increase personal net worth.

5. Quickly establish rapport and communicate. Generally, people work best with people they like. Be likable. A mindfully negotiated relationship leads to a productive work process and, more likely, a positive result. Be open, honest, and authentic.

Maintaining the balance between running a business and personal responsibilities is challenging but CEOs who possess these strengths are prepared to lead in stressful and uncertain conditions.Whether today’s CEO is clearing hurdles or simply keeping the business afloat, they are always in a better position to succeed when they take time to maintain focus and a healthy life balance.

Related: How to Manage the Stress of Uncertainty

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