These are our three common responses to anxiety. They were hardwired into our biological makeup in order to heighten the possibility of our survival when finding ourselves face to face with a sabre tooth tiger. Whilst our world has evolved to effectively eradicate the original sabre tooth tiger attacks, our response wiring to such-like anxious moments has not evolved. As business leaders, we live in our own world of sabre tooth tigers. They lie in wait for us in the forms of cash flow holes, staff issues, industry changes, supplier issues and digital overload, to name a few.

So how do we transition our deep instinctive reactions to effectively meet the business challenges that each new year has in store for us? None of the three default reactions are ideal and because our reactions really do define most of our outcomes, it’s worth considering some inner “override” programming.

Here is what I do;

  1. I define exactly where I want to go, in all areas of importance to me. This defining process doesn’t have to take place on the 1st of January each year but it needs to be done with some frequency. For me, this isn’t a straightforward exercise, as it involves business goals in 3 countries, 2 training practices, a property company and an educational publishing company. And of course just as important, if not more so, my family, friends, sports and soul-feeding interests. All of these areas comprise different stakeholders, business environmental influencers, strategic partnerships, risks and rewards.  I have to take some time to separate these strands before they all become intertwined again on day 1 of “the plan”. But a consciously structured intertwine is less likely to become irrevocably knotted en route. This exercise reduces my anxiety by shifting my focus from what is immediately threatening to what needs to happen next. It also shifts my focus en route from what could go wrong, to the goals I will reach. Focus shifting in business leadership is a very helpful technique – excellent for our headspace maintenance. This would never work for a real sabre tooth tiger, we would be lunch.
  2. My measure for “success” I base upon my progress, not my ultimate results. None of my business entities have become successful (to my definition) within the first 6 years. I couldn’t possibly wait that long before becoming disheartened, bored, unsure or forgetful about where I am headed or why I started out in the first place. I progress measure daily, weekly and monthly in a variety of pre-planned ways to keep me from getting lost because I can’t see the finish line.
  3. I expect that circumstances will change en route. I allow no space in my thinking for surprise, outrage, disbelief or any other highly charged emotions when they do change. These reactions are sure to place me into a dangerously ineffective fight, flight or freeze mode.
  4. I define my “security” as the assuredness that I can learn what is needed – when needed to adapt to the demands of my environment. One of the best catchphrases I remember from my Thought Leadership training was “momentum precedes clarity”. I practice this motto by consciously creating a safe space for failure in my own headspace and within the organisational leadership culture for those who work alongside me. Failure is accepted, examined, unraveled and left in our wake as quickly as possible. Encouraging this safe failure space as the business leader speeds up the progress of the human resources in any organisation significantly.
  5. I expect those I rely upon to have their own agenda’s or for their agendas to change over time. We all have our own interests at heart and the best we can do is to align them. But taking things personally when path’s split is simply inviting a fight response seldom helpful to anyone. Letting go of alliances no longer valuable to either party can be as effective, if not more so, as making exciting new alliances.
  6. There are times, of course, when the “life happens”  reasoning just doesn’t cut it and my buttons are pushed beyond my mental preparations. I deal with my inner frustration, anger, disappointment, and grief through sport, exercise, music, the funny side where possible, and carefully planned responses where needed. In cases where I have to fight – as these do happen, I fight with purpose. This seldom means swinging punches. (I should admit here that I did launch a diary at my brothers head with all the power my past shot-putting right arm could muster very early in the formative phase of Allcopy Publishers. He delighted in telling this story at our recent 20 Years in Business celebration. There is a short clip of the highlights of this 

    , held in Cape Town here The clip doesn’t include the lethal flying diary story, but it does provide a sense of the successful collaboration of the special people I have gotten to work with). But I digress, as much as I love to win I have learned to consciously limit my battles to those with a longer-term benefit for others. In many cases, it really doesn’t matter if I lost a battle, other than to my pride. In my experience, pride is best left out of all business leadership decisions.