The entrepreneurial journey is inevitably a bumpy one. For every great hire you make, a key employee quits. For every big deal you close, an irate customer calls. And for every time you think to yourself, "Finally, I've made it," you start to wonder, "What the hell did I get myself into?"
And that's just the first six months.
Sure, every entrepreneur faces uncertainty, frustration and outright fear at some point. But the most successful ones are able to block out the chaos, focus on the road ahead and do it all with a happy face. Because, as tempting as it may be to lapse into Eeyore mode when your business hits a seemingly insurmountable challenge, entrepreneurs also set the tone for their entire companies. And if the leader isn't positive, no one will be.
A few months ago, I attended an event featuring our own Sir Richard Branson at the Center for Living Peace in Irvine, Calif. As a follow-up in the Living Peace Series, I had the privilege of joining His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama on May 4 for a unique discussion about compassion, leadership, the pursuit of happiness and his outlook on the world. The Tibetan spiritual leader isn't exactly an entrepreneur by most people's definitions, but he has encountered many peaks and valleys (literally and figuratively) throughout his life, all the while preaching a message of positivity. And as I learned first-hand during his talk, he absolutely loves to laugh -- a trait he shares with many entrepreneurs.
So we decided to make His Holiness an honorary member of our Board of Directors this week and center our latest debate around positivity. His advice for future leaders of the world? "You are your own master." About as appropriately positive a message for entrepreneurs as I've ever heard. As for the rest of our Board, here's their take on what it takes to stay positive.
Co-Founder And CEO, Brooklyn Industries
"Our core mission is to bring creativity and art to everything we do. If one tact is working, then we try a different approach. We focus the teams on innovation and change, whether that be on a product line, a marketing approach or a sales strategy. Usually, change of focus improves everyone's mood and often turns around the numbers. Personally, I do the same. I take photographs, I spend more time in the stores talking to customers, I write more, I set up a brainstorming session throwing out every idea whether it be big or small."
President, Dyrdek Enterprises
"It's something that I struggle with like anybody else does. But I relentlessly keep telling myself, 'You can't be the one that gets emotional. It all stops with you.' When someone is being emotional and offends you, you have to know your position. You have to understand that you are everybody's rock. When everybody panics, they look for you to be the one that makes it right. And if you're the one panicking, or you get emotional and get angry, you would basically be unmotivating the people who you need to use to help figure everything out and continue to make everything work and be strong. For me, just because I've got a bit of an itchy trigger, I'm a little hotheaded, I expect things a certain way -- that's something, especially of late, that I'm hyper, hyper aware of. Because the reality of it is, I have so many people in so many positions that rely on me being there. Every now and then, I snap too. It's hard. But it's something that I practice very hard.
"Don't get me wrong, I would say it's just like any other key to happiness. If you always feel like you're progressing and doing new and exciting things, it's an energy of excitement and motivation and inspiration that goes along with constantly changing and progressing and watching things grow and get bigger and better. The biggest thing about that -- and I would say this type of energy and this sort of style of leading that's almost through energy -- it's contagious. When I'm all fired up, everybody else is all like, 'Ahhh, this is going to be amazing!' It gets exciting."
Founder And CEO, Nfinity
"The best way for me to stay positive is to rely heavily on process. One of the key factors in any business 'turnaround' is getting back to the basics. It's that way with my company (and my mood) -- when we hit a rough patch, get 'back to the basics.' When I know we are doing the little things right, it always helps how I feel about the process. That, and a cold beer usually helps."
Startup Advisory And Venture Lawyer, Gunderson Dettmer LLP
"Once the venture comes to life, it's no longer just about you -- it's about the vision and everyone and everything that the vision effects, such as employees, customers, suppliers and the community. The venture is a living, breathing entity around you and beyond you. While in some respects this creates more pressure, it can also objectify the rough situation. It's much easier for me to stay positive with a team.
"First, I keep my eye on the horizon and try to remember that the ups and downs are totally normal. The roller coaster is part of the fun! Then, I visualize where I want things to be, focus on getting there, and think about actions to take. Sometimes I picture a third person in my situation and the advice that I would offer. If distance from the situation will be of benefit, then I take a walk to clear my head or engage in an activity in which I can totally and completely lose myself (flow) to take my mind off it.
"Second, rough patches can be great instigators for change, so taking a dynamically different approach with the team creates a fresh lens. Sometimes I forget that no one expects me to have all the answers. Thus, articulating the situation with the team and actively brainstorming new approaches is one way to work through the rough patch and engage your core resources to help.
"Lastly, I rely on my personal support system (husband, friends, peers, advisers). There are a wealth of people who have faced this before and survived, or who know me well and can offer suggestions for being more effective. Tapping into this wisdom is incredibly beneficial."
Co-Founder And Chief Brand Architect, Method
"When works get challenging, which it frequently does for an entrepreneur, I rely on the technique of reframing to stay positive. Re-framing is simply telling yourself a story to find a different way to make meaning of the same information. No matter how bad things get, I can usually find a bright spot through reframing that helps me stay positive and chugging forward. And if not, well, tequila usually helps too."
Dylan LaurenFounder, Dylan's Candy Bar
"I exercise!!! Very important to take time to move the toxins, distract, be it in nature or a gym outside office and get the serotonin levels up to change the mood!"
Investor And Author Of Rule #1 And Payback Time
"The best way I know to do that was given to us 5,000 years ago by the Bhagavad Gita: Yogasta Kuru Karmani (Established in Being, perform action).
"In the event you don't have Krishna in your chariot, it helps to have a great spouse -- 'great' defined, in part, as someone you deeply respect who sends you out there every day thinking you're better than you are. And if you do have that person in your life, return the good karma to your spouse (and kids) by not taking your business problems home with you. This is where you have to just man up and put on a happy face. If you can do it at home, you can do it at the office. And remember, this too shall pass."
Founder And CEO, The Go Daddy Group
"I focus on my Rule No. 16: 'We aren't here for a long time, we're here for a good time!' I really don't get 'down' all that often. I know when I'm excited about what Go Daddy is doing, that enthusiasm has a way of moving down through the ranks. You really have to give your employees a reason to work hard, when you think about it, many of us spend a lot of our lifetime on the job, so you might as well make it fun!"
Founder And CEO, GrowBiz Media
"As a leader, it's really important for you to not let your team see you sweat. If you appear nervous, worried or distracted, it will only cause them to be concerned. So when things aren't going my way, I let myself internally panic for no more than two days -- all the while faking a positive attitude to other people. During those two days, I try to do something cathartic (sometimes I cry, sometimes I pray) and then I try to do something constructive, like come up with a new idea for a client or think of a product extension. Also, life always seems better when you're eating a Dairy Queen ice cream cone."
Rob AdamsDirector, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas
"Remain positive, always wear your game face and be a good actor. Like it or not, people key into your disposition about the company and if you're not positive and upbeat no one will be!"
Lawrence GelburdLecturer, The Wharton School
"The most profound, lasting achievements are those which are the most difficult, not the least. This maxim has always worked well for me and my entrepreneurial partners."
Tom SzakyFounder, TerraCycle
"Great question. From my perspective, you remind yourself of what you have built and reflect on all the positive that has happened in the past. That almost always outshines whatever negative is facing you at that moment. With that said, it is always darkest before the dawn!"
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 5/10/11.
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