As all experienced leaders know, success requires a clear vision of the path forward—the road that will move ourselves, our teams, and our businesses closer to our goals. Behind the wheel and in the driver’s seat, leaders are fully aware of and desperate for a clear view through the windshield. We focus on what is ahead and see earlier and more clearly than other passengers. The leadership role begins by taking that idea we see through the windshield and bringing it to life, which relies on a great plan.
“Please send me the presentation and financial plan for your business” is one of the first requests that many leaders will hear. That’s because your partners want to know the details behind your business before they commit to being involved. These materials create a sense of GPS for potential stakeholders. Afterwards, you might hear this: “We are entering this partnership because of you. We believe in you.” But what does that mean?
There is an intangible that has caught their attention. It is something outside of your business plan, presentation, and fancy Excel spreadsheet. Instinct has collided with logic, and emotions have entered the scene. Those around you trust not only in your ability to see clearly out of the windshield, but also in your “rear-view mirror.”
As leaders, we want to use our rear-view mirrors as identifiers of emotions to help guide us, but never to lead us. By definition, emotions are “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” We should develop a proactive—versus a reactive—approach to our emotions.
I believe that no better leader has illustrated the power of a proactive emotional plan than Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale. In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains what he calls the Stockdale Paradox. Stockdale became imprisoned during the Vietnam War and was tortured for eight years. How did he make it out when so many of his peers did not? Stockdale explains: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
When asked who did not make it out, he replied: “The optimists … they died of a broken heart.” Stockdale was neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He never allowed himself to be overcome by his emotions; instead, they accompanied him to new levels of endurance, insight and leadership.
While our circumstances are likely far less dire, I am encouraged to know that our generation of business leaders can learn from this example. Here are three thoughts on developing your own emotional plan:
Emotions are awesome friends, but they are terrible leaders. I believe that our emotions are meant to sit beside us, never to lead us. Why? Because any leader who is facing challenges knows that becoming overwhelmed by mood instead of focusing on the circumstances at hand will lead to failure. Even in moments when your “mood” isn’t right, stick to your business plan. It is important to do this, especially when your mood isn’t right.
Recall one situation this week when you responded in a way that you were not pleased with. Where were your emotions during this time? Take 5-10 minutes to write down as much as you can remember about your response. Then, rewrite how you will respond in the future thanks to your emotional awareness of the past.
One indication that your emotions are in the driver’s seat of your life is that you have a pattern of avoidable mistakes. Although you and the rest of the world are moving faster and faster, you are spending too much of your time focused on your rear-view mirrors. By allowing your emotions to guide you, you’ll end up repeating the same mistakes.
Instead, leaders should focus the majority of their time on the windshield, courageously taking new turns and making new mistakes every day. Changing the pattern of the past in order to step into a new and exciting future will stretch you outside of the comfort of your emotional walls and will propel yourself and your business forward.
As drivers, we spend a small percentage of our time using the side and rear-view mirrors. Why? Because we are focused on the windshield of where we are going and what may be coming our way. However, if we completely ignore our side and rear-view mirrors, we are likely to crash. Emotions are similar to our rear-view mirrors, allowing us to become aware and sensitized to small corrections we need to make as leaders, without taking over our GPS.
What regrets are you holding on to? Remember that regret is a form of self-punishment. Identifying and releasing regrets enables leaders to step into healthier relationships with their emotions and use them as tools, rather than as fortune tellers.
Emotional intelligence begins with appreciating that the first change is small. Before we know it, a few changes become hundreds. Thousands of these little changes compound on one another to build people who have the ability to shape the world. Never forget this: when you harness the power of your own innate emotional intelligence, and apply it proactively to your life, you’ve found the secret sauce for success that will take your business plan to new heights.
With a passion to communicate the connection between current reality and the potential of those around her, Caroline Beckman has been an entrepreneur within the wellness industry since her teenage years. She has founded and invested in over 10 companies and currently leads Nouri, a company delivering gut health solutions for the whole body. Caroline is from Sacramento, California and currently lives in Atlanta where she is a part of Passion City Church.