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CEO Mindset: Confidence When Your Business Is Struggling

CEO Mindset, confidence, business owner, business executive, turnaroundWhen I wrote the post “Confidence- An Often Overlooked Business Tool,” I received some great feedback. However, one theme that came up in conversations with Irish business owners as well as other business owners is the importance of having a realistic perspective. Business owners and executives must be truth-tellers first to themselves and then to the stakeholders.

Call it what it is…a turnaround

One of my clients is in the midst of a turnaround. His business is seriously struggling and there are a number of larger economic factors which are working against him plus some mis-steps made by himself and his staff. To his credit, he recognizes that staying focused on the here-and-now brings him one step closer to getting beyond this mess. He has moments when he feels doubt about getting through.

Turbulence and doubt

These are the roughest times for any business owner or high-level executive. It is not uncommon for a business owner to hide in his/her office and worry. Time seems to change by speeding up or slowing. You watch the business’ finances dwindle at an alarming rate and may have creditors or the bank calling to discuss how you’re going to pay them back. This is a scary and turbulent time.

Try a little tenderness

There is a surprising first step that must be taken. Apparently Otis Redding was onto something here. Treat yourself with compassion. Odds are, you didn’t try to get into this mess. In a 2012 study about self-compassion, researchers discovered that treating yourself with kindness and mercy produces four effects:

  • see the possibilities for change and making amends
  • increase the desire to make the changes
  • take steps to correct the situation or follow through on planned action
  • compare self with those doing better as if to use them as role models

Instead of berating yourself, acknowledge that there has been a failure. This allows you to treat yourself with compassion and open your mind up to find possibilities and cope with the consequences. Consistent with Carol Dweck’s work on the fixed mindset and the growth mindset, it is apparent that believing you can find a solution or learn a way to manage a problem is much more empowering. This is true even when you are faced with noxious choices.

Paradoxical thinking

This type of thinking is part of the growth mindset. Paradoxical thinking is the ability to hold contradictory concepts at the same time. You can tell yourself the truth that things are dire. However, for this to be truly paradoxical, the business owner (or executive) must also hold the concept that there may be a way out. Bear in mind that this is not arrogance or willful blindness. Confidence requires self-belief, humility and open mindedness if it is to be any use to you.

Taking action supports the feeling of “I can” and fosters confidence

Finding confidence when your business is struggling takes compassion, paradoxical thinking and an growth mindset. This is not necessarily an easy process but it is a necessary one.  Anyone leading a business is used to taking action and producing results.

To rebuild your confidence, start with basic questions:

  • What does the business do well?
  • What does the business owner/ executive do well?
  • What resources are available?

Taking the answers to these questions and developing a plan of action means

  • re-establishing yourself as the leader of your organization
  • communicating clearly to and with your staff
  • identifying what needs to be addressed first
  • re-connecting with customers
  • following up with leads and prospects
  • providing an optimistic, strong and thoughtful perspective

Possibly the greatest test of your career

Looking back isn’t productive. Regret eats away at your confidence. You are in this situation now and it needs to be rectified. There aren’t even guarantees that you will lead the company to an ideal result.

Even so, do:

  • Treat yourself with compassion
  • Acknowledge that this is a terrible situation and there is a solution or a way to manage the turbulence
  • Identify what is still working, your leadership skills and available resources
  • Develop a written plan and take action

Finding your confidence while your business struggles is a challenge. There are plenty of reminders of problems. But for your company to exit the situation with any degree of grace, you have to believe you can find a way out and get things moving in the right direction again.

Confidence enables finding the possible.

About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, executive coach and trainer who guides established small to mid-sized business owners and executives in the US, Ireland and Northern Ireland to be comfortable in their own skin. Change can be growing your business, expanding in the US or adapting to a new leadership roles. Visit my Services page to see how we can work together or schedule your complimentary coaching session here.


Confidence – An Often Overlooked Business Tool

small business owner, Irish business owner, confidence, busines tool

This blog has been a little quiet as I’m after being in Ireland for a business/family visit. While I was there,  I watched the new television programme, Taking Care of Business on RTÉ. Like Fergal Quinn’s show, Retail Therapy, a struggling business and its owner are the focus for each episode. While there is much conversation about business plans, debts and the relationship with banks, the most striking thing that is talked about is the low confidence level each business owner exhibits at the beginning of the episode.

Ireland is a tough place for small business owners right now

I had quite a number of conversations with various small business owners while in Ireland who described their frustrations and worries. There are many questions about the rising tax levels, continuing austerity budgets, the obstacles business owners face accessing credit, the high debt levels and the actions taken by the Irish government.

Confidence has taken a hit

Confidence is a remarkable thing. It is not the belief that you can do no wrong nor that everything is going to be the way it was.  It is the belief that “I can handle this somehow”, even under pressure. However, when you are faced with what seems like never-ending obstacles, confidence can be undermined so even normally confident people get to a low moment. As I’ve written before,  it’s not unusual to question your values, choices and actions during a major crisis of confidence. It is also overlooked as a business tool during times of crisis because it seems so tenuous and airy-fairy. Yet, it is the underpinning for what makes a small business owner effective.

To be confident, you need focus

Daniel Goleman, who studies emotional intelligence has discovered that focus is an important ingredient in confidence. In an interview with Dr. George Kohlreiser, he quoted Kohlreiser as saying:

“How you manage your own emotions is determined by how you focus. The mind’s eye is like a flashlight. This flashlight can always search for something positive or something negative. The secret is being able to control that flashlight – to look for the opportunity and the positive. When you do that, you’re playing to win. You’re able to focus on the right things and maintain that positive self.”

Getting that groove back

Someone once wrote that “It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain when you start out the climb” in reference to changing one’s heart and mind. There is a tension between old expectations and current reality. However, building up confidence brings the small business owner back to what makes him/her tick. This is the focus.

For some business owners, they need to be meeting prospective customers. This is where they get get their groove back. For others, they need to be doing something else to get their groove back…meeting with current customers, revising the business plan or accessing help from an outside resource. For my coaching clients with struggling businesses, the return to basics (reviewing the business plan and current goals, looking at up-to-date financial reports and completing a SWOT analysis) plus acknowledging the emotional aspects gets their feet back on the ground and their minds looking forward.

Confidence…that overlooked business tool

For Irish small business owners, indeed small business owners in many places, it is an uphill climb. The slow pace can feel grueling and the wins seem so small. It is so easy to think so-and-so has it easy because of their location or specialty but you don’t really know what their story is. And it’s tempting to ignore that you have certain skills, have faced adversity before or that there are other small business owners like yourself.  People gauge how well your business is doing by your posture and how you speak (Amy Cuddy has a fascinating TED talk about body language and confidence). Your prospects get excited if you are enthusiastic. Your staff and/or outside resources will feel more secure that you are projecting solidity. And most importantly, you will discover you can weather what comes your way. Confidence isn’t about the bad stuff going away. Confidence supports finding a way to face forward and seek solutions.

**After 2 active conversations on LinkedIn started due to this post, I wrote a companion post, “CEO Mindset: Confidence When Your Business Is Struggling“,  to flesh out more about what makes confidence such an important business tool.


About the author:  I’m Elli St.George Godfrey, a small business coach and executive coach who guides established small business owners in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US to use the CEO Mindset and be comfortable in their own skin. I have a deep appreciation for learning and understanding my client’s business style and culture. Whether you are re-focusing your small business or expanding in your own backyard or into another country, my 3 keys coaching process helps clients move from being excited about growing to having the tools to make it actually happen. Curious? Schedule your complimentary coaching session here.



Confidence: Aphrodisiac for Business Building?

Confident small business ownersWhile I’ve been focusing on business plans recently, there are often things in the background that will determine how much faith you put into your own planning and any action actually taken. Confidence is one of these things.

Confidence is a remarkable attribute in any part of life. Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists one definition as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of one’s circumstances”. In business, it’s a huge piece of any effective business plan. When we can clearly see our our choices and actions are successful, they build on each other. There is an aphrodisiac effect when we feel confident. People want to be around us. They believe that we can deliver our products or services and they will work. Like that feeling of first being in love, our customers want to tell others how wonderful we are. So what could possibly get in the way?

Emotions have a major influence in how we approach the hard work of our businesses.

My friend, Caroline pointed me to a post recently about emotions. It was an interesting tie in of how our emotions are tied into our emotional intelligence. Our instincts and perceptions certainly work on a nonverbal level that is useful. How many times have  you noticed that when you didn’t listen to your instincts that you ended up in a negative situation? We know stuff that we don’t realize we know.

But confidence can be built or eroded by emotion. Consider this-your skill level doesn’t suddenly evaporate. You still have the same body of knowledge and the same talent to serve your customers well. However, if you’re seeing your revenues decreasing or you just can’t seem to land new customers, your confidence generally drops. On the other hand, the times you’ve landed that fabulous client or solved a difficult problem, it gave you such a boost. There are days when you feel as if you couldn’t find your way out of a paper bag or, conversely, you are beautiful and people love you.

It’s not just our reaction to our performance that can grow or erode our confidence.

Circumstances in our environment can be taxing on our confidence as well. For small business, access to credit or consumer spending or lack thereof can drain one energy and motivation. The Irish Independent reported that the Small Firms Association ((SFA) urged that measures be taken to restore confidence to Irish small and mid-sized companies. Access to adequate networking, advice or governmental policies make up the environment in which we operate our businesses.  They fertilize our thinking and present opportunities for our growth. The way our peers respond to circumstances does in some way affect us. We may choose to get caught up in the zeitgeist or not but it is still in the air.

Sometimes personal issues have an impact on our confidence. It doesn’t take much to notice that we siphon off energy to respond to personal situations. They can be positive or negative events (e.g. weddings, children leaving home, illness or death) but they still evoke an emotional response.

Perhaps wisdom is in our awarenss of how we allow our emotions to grow or erode our confidence.

We’re going to feel our emotions, no matter what. As I often say, it isn’t the emotions that are good or bad. It’s what we do with them. The level of influence you have over a situation can markedly affect how much confidence you feel. And we have choices about how we express ourselves. Our choices encourage that glow and attraction that an aphrodisiac provides.

While it’s tempting on my part to provide suggestions for creating confidence that works like a love charm, it will be much more interesting to hear what the #kaizenblog community has to say. Please join us as we’ll be discussing “Confidence, Emotions and Business Growth” on the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog on Friday, May 13, 2011 at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT 

How would you describe the levels of confidence in your offline peers?

Could confidence have a fragility to it? Why or why not?

What is the relationship between experience, confidence and emotional intelligence?

What is it about confident people that attracts you?



Intersection of Optimism and Confidence

This past Sunday, my family and I were out for ice cream. In a span of 15 minutes, I saw three t-shirts that just made me stop in my tracks!

The first one said, “No pain, no profit.

The second one said, “I’m all out of money.”

The third one said, “No time.”Intersection of optimism and confidence

What the bleep did I just see? Was this an omen or a wakeup call? Or just plain weirdness? Since Sunday, confidence and optimism has come up in over and over in business news reports from Ireland, Germany, and China. In U.S. national news, there was a report about a recent    Gallup poll

which identified that, although the consumer confidence index was up, most people are pessimistic that the economic recovery is sustainable. One of the rhetorical questions in the television report asked if the legendary American optimism has been replaced by pessimism. That question may not be far from the mark if you take those t-shirts into consideration.

If the general public is anxious and pessimistic, what do small business owners feel? 

The National Federation of Independent Business does

monthly surveys

of small business owners and they got some interesting findings. One finding was that hiring is going to be limited and another finding was that small business owners are expecting things to improve.

In Europe, it seems to depend on where you are. Anecdotally, entrepreneurial SME’s are expecting  slow growth but growth nonetheless. On the other hand, the general public seems pessimistic. For example, in Ireland, there is talk about a huge uptick in emigration and the return to hard times. In the U.K., entrepreneurs expect things to improve according to The Independent.

One could argue that entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature. But the more interesting question is what do other small businesses expect will happen over the next year? In a recent conversation with an American small business owner, he expressed how difficult it is to manage everyday while setting the stage for the future with less people and less resources. Despite these challenges, he does expect things to get better and he believes in his ability to lead his company.

What is this intersection of optimism and confidence? It is a crucial part of how your small business functions. I’m not talking about the Law of Attraction per se but I know practitioners of this who swear that your thoughts have energy and bring back what you send out. My inner cognitive behavioralist says that if you perceive the world as hard then the world is nothing but hard.

Embedded in this intersection of optimism and confidence is:

Everything is not going to go back to some sort of normal. Blind optimism is just as bad as fatalism. It seems that hope is a piece of this. I don’t mean the kind of hope that has that flavor of desperation as in “I just hope this works.” More the kind of hope that holds the paradox that things are never going to be the same as pre-2008 and there are still opportunities. Not an easy kind of hope but quite possibly the kind of hope we need most as we create an economic recovery together.

Does hope spread or is it more like a trickle that turns into stream?

How would your rate your optimism?

What other qualities would you add to the intersection of optimism and confidence?

iStockphoto by hidesy