Historically I’ve been a worrier. I’ve worried about everything. I commonly found myself up late at night doing things strictly because I was too worried to allow myself to focus on anything else, especially sleep. Some were big, like the health of kids or fate of a business. Some were small like air pressure in tires on my car or finding some lost insignificant object. I’ve learned over the years that things are never as good or as bad as they seem to be. They’re never as important or as unimportant as your mind tells you they are. Taking that a step further, we must operate this way, on an even-keel, if we wish to be successful. That said, I’m by no means a master of this, and do find myself slipping into old habits at times. This is much easier said than done, but something must master if we want to be effective in any discipline.
Everyone around you likely has the same advice. They say “don’t worry.” What does that do? Make you worry more. We need a better tool to help us overcome this needless habit. We need something with real staying power the turns our mind and mindset into an ally rather than a foe we’re constantly wrestling with.
Recently came across an old Chinese proverb that illustrates the mindset we must seek. In fact, our ability to lead depends on it. We’ll get into that shortly. The proverb goes like this:
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
This is such a wonderful example how we must approach the daily struggles that trigger worry and stress within our day. The worries pull us away from the path on which we’re executing to reach our goals. If nothing else, they keep us from performing as well and as clearly on that path as we should be and need to be. The older I’ve gotten, the more I realized that the day is filled with little traps. Tiny landmines that try to pull you away from what’s important. They’re sneaky. They’re not always visible. They may not even seem like much. But they’re there and they’re waiting to attack.
I’ve talked in the past about what a tremendous impact Stoicism had on me personally as well as my career. If you’re new to Stocism, this is effectively it in a nutshell. To be effective, in any leadership capacity, we must separate emotion, we must detach ourselves from situations, and we must focus on the things we can actually impact. It’s challenging to pursue this path, but it’s the only way to get where we need to be.
So did we learn from this. Three things.
- Emotions are not real, emotions must be managed. Emotions are distraction and they skew our version of reality. Sure, emotions can sometimes protect us, but seldom do they help us to rectify a situation. More often than not, they’re going to divert us from getting done what needs to be done. Manage your emotions, and you can manage your way to success.
- Control what you can control. Any time and effort spent on the things we cannot is futile and wasted. When you find yourself going down these rabbit holes, recognize it, and back away. It’s not productive.
- Definitions of success must be re-evaluated. Over history, many significant contributions weren’t understood until after their creator’s death. What I’ve learned is that success isn’t necessarily a result. Success is how hard we work, how we prioritize our lives, and how we improve ourselves. These bad circumstances aren’t failures. They’re defining moments on our path to success. They are not to be dreaded, but rather appreciated for the opportunity that they will surely bring as they are temporary.
How does this apply to leadership? Three ways here as well.
- You team needs a steady leader. Emotions one way or the other will create an unstable environment. Leaders must remove emotion. That doesn’t mean empathy, it just means allowing themselves to think clearly.
- Leaders must focus teams in times of chaos – that gets us back to controlling what we can control and prioritizing. In business the are constant distractions. Maintaining your poise and helping your team to eliminate the noise and focus on the necessary tasks at hand it vital to your ability to lead. Oddly enough, even when things aren’t chaotic, this will be paramount to how effectively you lead your team.
- Bad circumstances are just circumstances. They will pass. so too will good circumstances. In your business bad and good times will pass as well. What you must strive to create is a stable, steady environment, to allow your team to operate with as much freedom as possible. Freedom is how your team will do their best work and how you can leverage the full extent of their capabilities to deliver on your team’s goals.
Take a hard look at yourself. How do you deal with setback? With success? Do you treat it as temporary – or better yet something that has no impact on your true success? Or do you let it derail you and pull you away from your mission and your responsibility to your team members. Most of us are probably the later. We’re human after-all. But exercising a healthy detachment and realizing that the only real finality in your life is death, will give you the steady mind and steady hand that will allow you to overcome and thrive whatever situation you find yourself in.