6 Quick Easy Techniques CEOs Can Use To Help Make Better Decisions
Truly evolved Samurais could find a calming peace in the middle of the toughest battle and some even composed poetry as they sliced their way through the battle. CEOs have been compared to Samurais because of the chaos that is the daily struggle of running a company. Especially Startup CEOs who have so much on their plate since they are CEO, programmers, and even take out the trash when needed. No job being below her station because it simply needs to be done and the buck stops with her.
Can the paper and electronic battles of today be equated to a sword fight in the middle of the woods with 10 opponents simultaneously trying to kill you? It can, except instead of 10 sword wilding killers; her opponents are replaced by dozens of tough decisions, 3-4 competitors making life difficult, bills to be paid from coffers running dry, lack of sleep, and guilt about not seeing her family for days. The battles are more civil, but the stakes are just as high: the livelihood of her loyal employees and the very life of her company. She is indeed fighting battles for many lives. Yet, chaos can be tamed by the right attitude and some training—and peace can be achieved at least most of the time much like top Samurais could.
Ben Horowitz wrote The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers and I found it interesting that he ended his book talking about finding peace. This after describing his grueling never ending daily battles and many retreats and other parries he needed to do to keep his company alive. He still strived to achieve peace and saw it as his objective though it eluded him. This article is written because of that curious ending.
Achieving peace in the middle of chaos like the samurais did is not only possible but quite achievable with the right attitude and some training. It is not easy for sure to find that attitude and practice simple techniques to relax and keep the peace inside but it is achievable with practice and patience. Ben advised to embrace the struggle and that certainly helps because by embracing it you are in control instead of it controlling you. Trusting yourself is also necessary because you only have yourself to do what you must do and questioning yourself, as hard as it is not to do so, will not be productive.
As contradictory as it sounds, CEOs seem to have an abundance of confidence, self-doubt, and false bravado. Use the false bravado to prop yourself up. There is plenty of scientific evidence that faking it, not until you make it, but until you become it; is very helpful and does happen. John Legere is a perfect example of this phenomenon. If you study him careful you see he drinks his own punch until he gets drunk with it and believes it completely that is why he can sound so convincing.
Finding a neutral mind or a state of equanimity in the middle of the battles and the barrage of split second decisions each CEO must face each day is not easy but it is quite achievable. If a CEO believes he must try his best for the company then he owes it to the company, its employees, customers, and board to find peace because it is proven that finding a neutral mind and a state of equanimity significantly helps in decision making. So it is a CEO’s duty to do this just as much as it is to do any of his other duties. Since the company and everyone associated with it, including the CEO, will benefit from gaining this ability, neutral mind and equanimity should be a part of CEO training as much as understanding spreadsheets.
While deep training does require an expert and every CEO should strive to find their expert. With practice the following temporary technique will last longer and longer. Obviously Yoga, Tai Chi, and other similar practices as well as meditation can be used to achieve these states, but they are beyond the scope of this paper and they take years to master. However, there are many quick and simple techniques that the CEO can start with to achieve temporary moments of neutral brain and equanimity. These techniques may seem silly because I am naming them with silly memorable names so you remember them but they do work and they do help. These are just a few of many things you can use and, except for the first two, you may be able to find better ones that fit your own style and need. However, practicing these things are so easy when you actually do them–the hard part is making them a habit so they help you no matter the situation. If you can incorporate them into your daily consciousness until they become habits you and your company will benefit from them!
Breath Wide Open
This simply means to remember to breath. When stressed we often hold our breath or breath so shallow that it does not maximally oxygenate us and this is bad for many reasons. It really holds our thoughts up as well. So start a routing to catch yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow, you will be shocked how often you do this. When you catch yourself make it a point to breathe deeply to open yourself up. Look for breath holding particularly when you are stressed or angry. Breathing will break a stress cycle and open you up to focus on the problem. Also unless you have great breath control, focus on taking a deep breath every 5 minutes and this too will disrupt the cycle.
Floppy Hands, Drooping Shoulders, and Mouth Agape
When stressed and/or mentally tensed most people will tense their muscles all over but when the tension is constant we tend to make fists. This again locks us up in the problem and stop us from grasping many things as with fists you cannot grasp. Consciously check yourself even when you think you are relaxed and you will be surprised that you are making a fist. You may even be amazed to find as you wake up you have a fist. Try to focus on relaxing the hand and just let them flop. I have mastered this technique already but I just swapped tensing my toes for my fist so now I am working on that one. The body wants to keep the tension, do not let it and if you conquer one keep aware that it has not moved to another area. I used to brux (grind) my teeth and I stopped that, my shoulders used to hug my ears and I stopped that, I clench my jaw and I am working on that. My point is keep aware of your tensions and stop them, they only lock you up. When one disappear find the next until you stop tensing up everywhere, the vigil must not stop until you are quite advanced.
This may sound silly but I learned my first relaxation technique from a TV show. If you are a young tech CEO you will not remember the Fonz from the show Happy Days but he was a big deal once. He had what is actually a very effective move, whenever he was going to lose his temper he stood back and took a deep breath. It is amazing how stopping the ramp up to anger and stress just stops it cold or calms it enough to leave you a window of rational thought. So when you feel particularly tense, especially if anger is beginning to surface take a step back and a purposeful deep breath while thinking of nothing and you will find it super helpful. In fact as per my recommendation on breathing, do it even when you are not tense to signal the body to relax anyway.
In the movie The Matrix the hero could slow down time and avoid bullets. Well this is actually possible at least for non-piercing problems. When needing to solve one problem among a great deal of distractions, focus only on the problem and let go everything else as if you stopped time temporarily. Focus on those bullets coming and let the problem reveal itself. Twist it and turn it in your head (as if you were trying to avoid the bullets) and see only it. Touch it, feel it, smell it, use every sense you can to understand it and try to solve it. This technique is a bit more advanced but with practice and a good focus you can achieve it. You can practice on non-problems at first such as focusing all of you attention on a rose and seeing every ruffle of the petal, touching its silky texture, smelling it, and being one with it. You are not practicing problem solving with the rose but you are practicing focus and it does help. Hypnosis often uses a focal point where you super concentrate on an object to enter that state, this is one form of that but you do not have to achieve that deep state (though there is no harm in reaching it).
The Top Gun
This is particularly good for younger CEOs used to gaming and who adore their music. Like in the movie Top Gun, make a play list for problem solving, pump up the volume, and see the problem as a dog fight where you must outdo your opponent. Let the music give you hero status as you outmaneuver your problem. Weave and climb and dive and examine it from every direction while putting it in your sites. It can be quite fun and definitely it can relax you enough to focus you and the theme of catching and shooting it down will ramp up your creativity as well.
The Minority Report
Perhaps you are more analytical and need to follow a method that works best for your analytical mind. So try The Minority Report method where you picture all components of a problem in your mind and move them around and examine them until you solved them like it happened in the movie. This is a cool visualization technique that works great. Please do not be tempted to do this with a computer as cool as that would be, do it in your mind so your mind focuses it. Put on your gloves and start moving floating data around until you can make sense of it.
What do all of the techniques described here have in common? They all relax you and focus you. Whether it is through preventative methods like taking tension out of you and keeping your blood optimally oxygenated or focusing on a single particularly difficult problem to the exclusion of everything else; you can benefit from them. These techniques just make it relatively fun because they are tied to cool memories and characters and the feelings they give you so it is easier to get into character with them. Although some of the imagery techniques may seem to require a great deal of time, once you get good with them you can use them in just a few seconds without anyone else noticing you spaced out for a few seconds to find and increase you focus to solve the problem. So in the end they do not have to take a huge amount of time, the important thing is finding the ones that work for you and using them. The hard part is starting to use them since they do require conscious effort to make them habits and they seem far out there, but they do work, I promise you!
There are many more techniques, virtually endless ones and some may not work for you but finding the right ones for you is important because they will make you a more effective CEO and benefit everyone that depends on you including your company.