When You’re a CEO, You Don’t Have Time to Play the Victim

Instead of dwelling on what’s out of your control, focus on what you can do

The journey of an entrepreneur is anything but a linear, upward trajectory. It’s a series of highs and lows, successes and setbacks, wins and losses. After more than four years of running my own business and helping others run theirs before that — trust me — I understand the frustration that comes from entrepreneurship. The most important lesson I’ve learned through my own experience is that it’s imperative, for both your sanity and your efficiency, to remember that you are not a victim.

[To read more of Erik Huberman’s thought leadership click here]

Things happen to everyone. You have a difficult client; your employee is constantly late to very important meetings; partners are constantly shoveling their responsibilities onto your plate; you got a parking ticket just two minutes after your meter expired. Out of all these external factors affecting you and your abilities to get work done, it’s important to understand which of the things you can change and which you can’t.

Don’t be a martyr (but give yourself some space to feel)

Entrepreneurship isn’t martyrdom. Your industry was not crafted to best suit your abilities. It’s up to you to adapt to your industry and all its changes.

At my company, I could complain about crazy clients or difficult employees or economic shifts, etc. But at the end of the day, that just causes stress and there’s nothing to be done about it. Instead, I choose to focus on what I CAN control. I don’t have to work with that client, I can let go of that employee, and, while I definitely can’t control the economy, I could tighten up the ship a bit. I focus on my energy on the things I can handle within the constraints I have.

However, I’m not a robot — and I’d bargain you aren’t either. We have a right to feel frustration, disappointment … even anger or sadness. Give yourself the space to feel those natural human emotions. Just don’t allow yourself to dwell in that space for too long.

Find What You Can Control

Okay. You’ve allowed yourself to let off some steam about an unpleasant situation. Now it’s time to get down to business.

For example, say you have an employee who has just missed an important deadline and the client is pissed. The first step in handling this issue is to figure out what, within that situation, you can control. And remember, as a CEO, you have quite a bit of control.

In my opinion, there are four options you have to deal with this issue:

  1. Immediately fix the problem. (Fire that deadline-missing employee.)
  2. Sit around and complain about the problem. (Bitch over beers to your business partner about the missed deadline.)
  3. Help your employee succeed (Talk to your deadline-missing employee about their organization methods and suggest ways to prevent missing important dates.)
  4. Do it yourself. (Handle any and all deadlines moving forward.)

While these options are obviously not created equal, they are all within your power to implement. What isn’t in your power is the actions of the employee, when the deadlines are, how the client is going to feel about the missed deadline, etc. I know it’s tempting to dwell on these things, but at the end of the day, it’s only going to drain you of your focus and patience.

So hone in and find the things you can control.

Then Fix It

Things can and will go wrong, but if you remember you’re a manager, not a martyr — these issues will be a fertilizer, rather than an impediment, for growth.

Now that you’ve thought about the issue with a calm head, it’s time to go about fixing what is broken. Not all problems are going to have immediate solutions that bring about immediate results. But if you’re working in a positive manner toward a bigger goal, that’s a win in my book.

Referring back to the scenario above, options 1 or 3 seem like the best way to go. You can obviously still go vent to your partner about the missed deadlines and other work frustrations, but just be sure you’re also doing something proactively to address the situation at hand.

If this is the fourth or fifth time that employee has totally dropped the ball, then maybe option 1 is your best bet. But, more likely, this is the employee’s first offense. Let’s face it, sometimes these kinds of things happen. We’re all human; we’re all bound to make mistakes. What matters most is how you grow from them.

Take this missed deadline as an opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with that employee to figure out how you, as a CEO and leader, can help them be better at their job. Maybe there are some issues outside of work that are occupying the employee’s headspace, making them appear to a little spacey. Perhaps they could benefit from a day off or a long weekend. Maybe the employee just needs some tricks and tools to be better organized. Let them know what you do to stay on track and see if they’d be interested in attending a seminar on project management.

Be Proactive

Basically, as a leader, it is your responsibility to deal with the blows and blessings that come from running a business. It is your job to provide your employees the tools to succeed and your clients the results tey’re expecting. Things can and will go wrong, but if you remember you’re a manager, not a martyr — these issues will be a fertilizer, rather than an impediment, for growth.

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