Nearly every entrepreneur I’ve met in this first quarter of 2018 says that last year was a very difficult year for business. The political climate, interest rate capping and the wait and see attitude of potential clients all contributed to one of the hardest years yet for business in Kenya in recent times. My consulting practice wasn’t spared. Clients who were on retainer felt the pinch of the business environment and opted out of engagements. Proposals that were at contractual stage found themselves on a pile, all pending signing. Our very modest forecast looked like a joke. But we weren’t laughing.
By the end of Q1 of 2017, we had to make some very serious decisions regarding the future of the business. I hadn’t been in this position since we set up in September 2014. There are a few things more heartbreaking, I’ve learned, than watching people who depend on you, who have bought into your vision, realise you don’t have all the answers. For the first time since we set up, I felt fear.
That’s the thing about being the CEO. You will not always have the answers. You will not always know whether the answer you have is the right one. But you have to make a decision and act swiftly. Your employees, your clients and your vision depend on this – your confident decision making based on the information you have at hand. It is making quick, strategic decisions relating to our product offering, our marketing plan and our operational costs that ended our year on a positive growth trajectory compared to 2016 in spite of all the odds.
So, what can a CEO do when they need to make a decision while fearing the outcome of every possible option? How do you put fear aside, in order to make a strategic decision and not one out of the emotion? I use two pieces of wisdom that I’ve gathered from reading.
- “Every CEO of a startup should focus on what needs to be right rather than worrying about what is wrong. One of the most difficult challenges is keeping your mind in check. You need to be able to move aggressively and decisively without acting insane. To calm your nerves, find someone you can talk to who understands what you’re going through. Put your ideas, challenges, and fears on paper for a better focus on where you are going and not what you are trying to avoid. There is a fine line between fear and courage — People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel.” Wisdom from Ben Horowitz that I carry with me, always.
- “When we make decisions based on fear, we always overcompensate or undercompensate, leading us to experience the very thing we were afraid of in the first place. Risk is a two-sided coin.” Says Brad Federman. I normally like to think – what’s the worst that will happen if I do X and what’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t do X. This allows me to experience the emotions associated with my decision outcome and therefore eliminate the fear I feel at that moment.
There’s no secret to being a successful CEO, other than making the best move when there are no good moves. And remember, NOT making a decision has its own outcomes as well because it’s a decision in itself. The situation you’re in could degenerate or you could result in a missed opportunity.