A Deliberate, Thoughtful and Unemotional Leader

In addition to the functions you must perform, you also must be three things: unemotional, deliberate and thoughtful—all while in the midst of the chaos that comes with entrepreneurial ventures. The ability to keep your head when things around you are going wrong or not making sense is a true skill, but one you must master. In this lesson, we discuss the importance of these skills and how they impact your company.

It’s unlikely, especially when you’re getting started, that you feel “unemotional,” “deliberate” and “thoughtful” very often. On the contrary, you’re full of vision, passion, energy—traits that make you a dynamic entrepreneur in the first place—but not always a good CEO. Your balloon (aka - your mind) is too full and being unemotional, thoughtful and deliberate is tough when you’re looking for every opportunity to let out a little air. But sometimes you have to hold your breath. Since we are always under the influence of pressure, passion, pleasure and pain, you must see through the noise and pressure of the moment and make deliberate, thoughtful and unemotional decisions. I know what you’re thinking—“I wish I could feel one of those things for even one hour.”

So how do you change your perspective from how you feel now—reactive, emotional and like you never have time to think—to unemotional, deliberate and thoughtful?

Impact on Your Company

First, you need to understand that these behaviors undermine the day-to-day operations of your company from small details to major decision-making. Would you ever add a feature to your product or service that hurt sales, marketing or retention? Of course not. But that is what you are doing when you act emotionally, or without proper thought or deliberation. It is your appreciation and understanding of these consequences that should help you shift your perspective.

Once you understand these consequences, it should be clear why. If you can't evolve into an unemotional, deliberate and thoughtful leader, what are the impacts?

  • Faith in Your Leadership. You want to be a true leader. You want to inspire others. You need people to plow ahead in the face of challenges. It’s plain and simple. Regardless of your talents and skills, when you react emotionally it makes people doubt whether you are the person that can take the company forward.
  • Impact on Employees. You need employees to perform. You need employees to move the business forward and to take initiative when they are often underpaid and overworked. It becomes harder to motivate your team when the person running the show (You) seems unstable, haphazard or reactive.
  • Impacts on Customers and Investors. Customers and investors can smell instability. When they see emotion they think things like, “How am I going to deal with this person when there is a problem?” and “How is this person going to deal with problems?” Customers and investors will choose to do business with people who work well under fire, and who collaborate professionally even when things aren’t going so well.
  • Impacts on Vendors. Like customers and investors, vendors can sense when you are being emotional and reactive. You never want to be in a position in which a vendor can take advantage of you because they know how to manipulate your tendency to react. Don’t let your emotions undermine your ability to negotiate.

Once you realize that the consequences of this perspective are no less damaging than a poor product or poorly delivered service, you will start to police your behavior.

Eliminate the Emotion

You must take emotion out of the equation. Why?

  • Consider the Implications. When we are emotional, we react immediately and impulsively to the situation at hand, but fail to account for, not only the consequences of our decisions, but the impact on our audience.
  • Sign of Instability. When leaders react emotionally, they send a signal of instability to those inside and outside of the company. Think about how often you reacted to the situation in front of you only to come back a day later and realize the implications of your actions.
  • Redeploy The Energy. Being unemotional is counterintuitive for the entrepreneur. After all, it is likely the passion you have for your idea that fuels your ability to think differently. While removing emotion from the decision-making process is expected in most formal business environments, for entrepreneurs, it is one of the most needed assets, and an operating method we need to tap into every day. We need it to overcome challenges. We need it to keep employees moving ahead. We need it to keep ourselves sane. It is what gets entrepreneurs started in the first place and keeps them going.

Be Thoughtful

Being unemotional is only part of the equation. You also have to be thoughtful and deliberate. Why?

  • You Need Time. You must take the time to think through important issues. In early stages of entrepreneurship, you often don’t have the financial or human resources or the processes to make good decisions.
  • You Need Creativity. In addition, because you often lack resources, you need to tap into the same creativity that helped you create your vision, and, like your passion, redirect it to support what your evolving business needs. Don’t get me wrong. It would be great if the issue with your technology vendor was solved with a courteous “No problem. We were planning for this contingency and have a backup offshore shop doing parallel work.” Right. You need to bring a thoughtfulness to your decision-making process to take advantage of your creativity and the creativity of others.
  • You Need to See Around Corners. With important issues, you have to slow down, anticipate what’s coming, and make decisions instead of reacting to decisions and consequences already made

Be Deliberate

Finally, you need to be deliberate. Many days for the entrepreneur are just about scrambling. With important issues, you have to slow down, anticipate what’s coming, and make decisions instead of reacting to decisions and consequences already made. Why?

  • You May Need Others. As hard as it is to change pace—and perspective—go slow when it comes to important decisions. Important decisions are also rarely ones you’ll want to make alone. Don't make important decisions alone: they almost always should include other people, other approval, other opinions, and many other questions.
  • See the Bigger Picture. You have to see that big questions have multiple steps and multiple players. You need to give attention to those individual questions and how they get you to the final answer. In reality, you’re often actually answering fifty questions to get to the big one you started with. You can only do that if you slow down and think.
  • Set the Right Tone. Not only is deliberation key to making good decisions, it sets the tone for the company. This is true regardless of whether it’s a two-person partnership, a solo performance, or a business with a strong organizational chart and an established employee base. When you can take a step back and get the perspective you need, you create a sense of confidence and stability for everyone around you. Everyone is looking to you, and when situations come across your desk, how you act affects every piece of your business, and the perspective of everyone you encounter.

Tips That Can Help

Here are a few ideas that may help:

  • Don't Justify. First you need to recognize the emotions you are experiencing so that they are not mistaken for justifications or valid reasoning in your decision-making. Some days it may be obvious to you (and everyone else) that you are reacting to emotion and making poor decisions. Other days, your emotions may seem perfectly valid and not “emotional” at all. Taking an honest assessment of your thoughts is critical.
  • Channel Your Emotion. Once you become aware of these behaviors, make sure the emotion driving them has somewhere healthy to go. Before the day gets started and decisions get tough, develop your own version of a “deep breath” even if it means keeping a punching bag handy in your office (but close the blinds first, please). You can also take five minutes to write down your feelings, meditate, stretch, do yoga, squeeze a stress ball—you know what’s best for you—but find something and have a plan ready in advance. Coping with your emotions is a daily part of the entrepreneurial battle. Sometimes, the day-to-day can get overwhelming and you’ve got to find a way to manage it every day.
  • Be Accountable. You need to be accountable. This may be the hardest part, but you can’t change your perspective without taking responsibility. Start with having someone hold you accountable. Have an advisor who sees you in action “score” you on a scale of one to ten. Have them keep track of how many times you flew off the handle, yelled or swore. Forget about why— just keep track. (Remember, you always feel these are justified.) Check in biweekly and rescore yourself. Create a fine for yourself—every time you react the wrong way, put five dollars in a jar. You’ll find that when your behavior is actually being measured objectively by you and others, you will monitor yourself with more discipline. You’ll also be less likely to justify emotional reactions as part of dealing with “the nature of the beast.”

Start today by making the commitment to being a more unemotional, deliberate and thoughtful leader. Take note of your current behavior, reactiveness, and impact on those around you. As you improve your self-awareness and control, the benefits will be obvious. Your passion may have launched your vision into being, but now that passion needs to be redirected in an unemotional, thoughtful and deliberate way to support and inspire your maturing business. Someday you will look back fondly and say to yourself, “I can’t believe I acted like that.”