When you feel discouraged, and your team needs to be encouraged.

Worried manWhat do you do when you are exhausted, frustrated, maybe even doubtful, but as the Founding CEO, you need to project strength and optimism? Have you ever felt this way?

It’s time for your team’s semi-annual off-site meeting. You started the company two years ago with enough enthusiastic energy to power a space rocket. You did the hard work of raising capital or got enough customers to create positive cash flow. But, you haven’t quite gotten the traction as quickly as you envisioned. 

You sense your team’s low morale is impacting their ability to make your business dream a reality. They may need some encouragement, but you feel discouraged. What do you do?

This is something I’ve seen quite often over the years. Through my vantage point as an executive coach, CEOs often share with me what they otherwise might not share with their teams. I’ve also facilitated a number of CEO roundtables and the same thing occurs.

A few questions often come to my mind.

Questions and answers

First, why can’t you tell your team that you are scared, frustrated, or even doubtful about a specific course of action or even the viability of your company? Occasionally I have asked client CEOs this question. Here are some responses.

  • “My ‘A’ players may get spooked and look for another job.”
  • “My team may not listen to me when I have to make a decision and I need their support.”
  • “Word of my personal doubts might leak to my investors and prompt them to question my ability to lead.”
  • “I may be replaced.”

Second, I ask them this question. What makes you think your team needs encouragement? Again, here are some responses I’ve heard over the years.

  • “I just do.”
  • “My HR consultant told me.”
  • “They look to me for inspiration.”
  • “Morale is low and it’s my job to lift them up.”

I do think it’s important to ask yourself if you are projecting your own fears onto your team. They may not be in as great a need as you may be.

However, if you have ever been a Founding CEO, you know these are all very real questions, feelings, concerns, and responses. They all sit at the intersection of doubt and conviction, uncertainty and confidence, reality and hope, logic and intuition, failure and success, and even depression and resilience.

Things You Can Do

Sometimes it’s pointless to even question the nature of the need to encourage your team. Sometimes you just know it has to be done. So, how do you do this?  What can you practically do when you feel disillusioned and you are finding it difficult to “put courage into others,” the very definition of encouragement?

Here are some things to consider.

  • Share your thoughts with a mentor, coach, peer, or friend. Sometimes just voicing your concerns may raise your spirit and confidence.
  • Take an inventory of your company’s achievements in the past year. You may be surprised by the mind’s ability to focus on the negative at the expense of the positive.
  • Write  2-3 sentences about why you started your business. It may help you reconnect to your original motivations.
  • Remind yourself why you decided to stay on as the CEO of the company you founded. In my experience, it is difficult for a CEO to motivate her team when she is experiencing more doubt than belief. CEOs are leaders. And, a leader is a dealer in hope. Do you have any shred of hope? You may have more than you realize.
  • Try to put things into perspective. Is this personal feeling produced by short term issues?
  • Trying working from a park, museum, lake, or river for a day or two. You might be amazed how works of art and nature can revive a dampened mind.
  • Fake it until you feel it. Sometimes a bit of acting may even shift your mental framework of thought.

It’s normal to feel discouraged, anxious, and doubtful from time to time. Can you articulate your doubts? If so, maybe your team doesn’t need encouragement. Maybe they need to get to work helping you resolve the legitimate business concerns you may be feeling. Maybe it is time to authentically share some of your concerns so your team has an opportunity to resolve the issues that linger in your mind.

And, remember, if your discouragement continues to that of fatalism or even depression, you may want to consult your physician. Your mental health is as important as your physical health.

What do you do when you feel discouraged and your team needs to be encouraged? Feel free to share your comments so that other Founding CEOs may learn from you.

Experts, Gurus, “Mentors,” and Ninjas

They are everywhere. Experts, Gurus, “Mentors,” and Ninjas, oh my! They yell at you from autoplay Facebook videos. They fill your inbox with promises of riches. They twitter bomb you with endless inspirational quotes. They fill your physical mailbox with post cards selling their “must attend” LIVE events. And, you hire them and consult with them all the time.

Dan Shapiro, CEO and Co-founder of Glowforge and author of Hot Seat: The StartUp CEO Guidebook, even pointed out a new and growing problem in a recent interview I did with him for my podcast. “Mentors tend to give a lot of conflicting advice. At Techstars they have a phrase, ‘mentor whiplash,’ for all the opposite and conflicting advice that entrepreneurs get.” Continue reading

Enhance Your Leadership with Good E-Introduction Etiquette

A few years ago a local consultant contacted me with a professional, yet direct email. It said, “Todd, thanks for sending me XYZ person my way. In the future, can you check with me first? I’m really busy for the next three weeks and I don’t have time for networking.”

At first I was, admittedly, a bit annoyed. I was connecting a Founding CEO client to the consultant as a potential customer for him. In addition, the consultant had previously told me to send him anyone who might need his services. In my anger I silently fumed and resolved never to help him again.

As a Founding CEO, my time is very limited, just like the consultant in my story. It’s somewhat of a cliché now – time remains the fixed asset we all share. I’ve had the good fortune to interview over 50 Founding CEOs of fast growing businesses on my podcast, “From Founder To CEO.” Lack of time is a common theme amongst them. Those CEOs who thrive learn how to delegate, prioritize, and hire a great team. They are also adept at networking. Between fundraising, cultivating partnerships, and seeking more business, they are skilled in the art and science of e-introduction etiquette. Continue reading

There’s Just Something About Paper

Composition of multiple cardboard paper sheets as an abstract background compositionMy battalion commander had tasked me with the responsibility of conducting an “officer professional development” training program for all the officers in our combat engineer unit. This was a first for me. My responsibility included coordinating the logistics for the field trip to a famous battlefield, developing all the materials to help my fellow officers learn the lessons of the fight, and become knowledgeable enough to answer the questions they would shoot my way.

I was very nervous. A few months before I had wowed them with a Harvard Graphics (precursor to Microsoft PowerPoint) presentation at the Officer’s Club. The topic was the capabilities of the North Korean Army. The officers were stunned by the new technology I was using. I used a liquid crystal display device that projected my presentation onto a screen. This was new technology in 1994. And it took a longtime to create and set up.

So when we were on the field trip to the battlefield, I could not use the new fancy equipment. There were no plugs and no electricity, just 30 people in the middle of some rice paddies. I was relegated to an old standby we called, “butcher block” paper, on an aluminum stand. Today we know this as “flip chart” paper. I felt my creative juices flowing as I reenacted the battle on paper with colored pencils, crayons, and markers. Continue reading