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Overcoming the mental hurdles of leadership

July 17, 2017
Borderless Leadership

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality,” according to a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln.

I would contend that leadership is, in fact, comprised of a series of small promises converted into reality. Along the way, these small promises generate faith and trust in a leader’s ability to not only promise wonderful things but also deliver on those promises. Great leaders are then idealized as the faultless heroes who steadfastly strode forth and never looked back — but is that indeed the whole truth?

I can’t confidently state whether it is. All I can share is my own experience of being a leader and what I encountered along the way. My experience as a leader began when I formed my first venture, Eulysis. I had discovered a technology, the Single Vial System, to deliver twice as many medicines at half the cost worldwide. Along the continuum from inception to completion, I was fortunate to gain support from the World Health Organization, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Royal Society of Edinburgh, and HRH Prince Charles. I also led an international team of public and private partners across three continents.

Was I always confident? Absolutely not. I started as a young man, 24 years old, with no experience in the pharmaceutical field. I was learning as I was doing and would often have meetings where I understood very little of what was being said. People recognized my naivety and questioned my ability. I faced multiple instances where I was about to run out of money and potentially even be evicted from my apartment.

One such moment will always remain etched in my memory. I had but $200 left in the whole world, and my next tranche of funding was being delayed by two weeks. I sat on the floor of my apartment and was overcome with such fear that I felt crippled. Most of my time leading the venture, I worried that someone would discover I was an impostor, pretending to be in charge and know what I was doing when I didn’t have the faintest clue. I spent 12-16 hours a day every day learning all that I could while also running the company.

I think entrepreneurs and executives can appreciate this sentiment. Often, we are suddenly thrust into leadership positions, completely unsure of what to do. We cannot confide in anyone about our insecurities for fear it may jeopardize our position, relationships and status. I could not speak to anyone, even family, about my financial and other worries. How could I tell my parents, and later on my spouse, that I wasn’t sure I had enough money to pay the bills? More importantly, how could I tell anyone that I didn’t know what I was doing or even if I was capable of doing it?

So, you may wonder how exactly I overcame these mental hurdles. I followed these three main approaches, which could be applied by leaders in any business:

Put things into perspective.

First, I always tried to put issues into perspective. Whenever emotions take over, it is normal to fear the absolute worst and react in the wrong way. Take for instance the time I was down to $200 for the next two weeks — it seemed like the end of the world. But how many people lose their jobs and have nothing, almost instantaneously? My rational voice calmed me by saying I could spend the money only on essential items until the next funding came through.

Tip: When something happens to you, wait at least 24 hours before you react to it. Examine it and put it into the context of the larger picture. This will help you identify how crucial it really is.

Make yourself an expert.

I constantly read about anything I didn’t know. Fear of the unknown is a factor leading to anxiety and stress. When the Single Vial System met product development bumps and the process was slowed or even outright derailed, I would panic. Could this be the end of the idea altogether? Logically speaking, anyone who has ever developed a product knows that it will meet bumps in the road. Once I calmly investigated the product development bump, I could see how to overcome it.

Tip: Be sure you know what you are doing; if you don’t, begin learning it as best you can. You cannot lead when you don’t understand what is happening.

Confide in someone.

Finally, I would find one person to share the current issue with. It was difficult not being able to openly tell my family about all my worries, but I also knew that would only make them worry, too. So, I would choose the most important concern and share it with the most appropriate person. A product development issue might best be discussed with my mentor, a financial issue might best be discussed with my friend, and so on. In this manner, no single person bore the brunt of all of my concerns, and yet I was able to vent my issues and get an objective perspective.

Tip: Choose a select few people that you can share issues with as they arise. Then, selectively share issues so that you are not inundating any single person. This will protect you from detrimentally internalizing all issues and give you a fresh perspective, as well.

Sharing these and other strategies is my motivation for becoming a coach — to be a helping hand to entrepreneurs and executives in the same situations. I want to share the lessons I learned and be the person they can confide in with any and all of their problems. With my wife’s expertise as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I am confident we can help entrepreneurs and executives worldwide to overcome their mental hurdles as leaders. Then, they will be able to remain exclusively committed to transforming their promises into a reality.

By Ross Tsakas

Source: Forbes

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