A small business superpower: How to tap into self-leadership during times of uncertainty

Frances Frey

Think Maven director Frances Frey.

2020 is the year that has proven what we’ve known all along, but this time we’re truly living and breathing it.

Uncertainty is the only certainty.

The last few months have shown us that the world can come to a grinding halt overnight, and no one is spared.

As small business owners review business models, pivot, and operate with little certainty, this is no doubt taking a personal toll on the wellbeing of leaders. 

That is why it is more important than ever for leaders to continue to evolve mentally, physically and emotionally to survive and thrive in today’s current climate.      

So how can we learn to embrace uncertainty?

The answer: self-leadership. It is every small business owner’s superpower. 

What is self-leadership? 

Self-leadership about leading ourselves first and foremost; it is an ongoing practice in ‘self-mastery’. 

Leadership typically looks at the external, the ‘outer game’, or changing behaviour to improve performance. 

Self-leadership focuses on the internal, the ‘inner game’, exploring, identifying, and positively changing the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that influence the quality of the external (our performance, our communication and our actions).  

How uncertainty can affect us as leaders  

The main effect of uncertainty is it can trigger fear, creating a stress response to the environment as our mind perceives danger and our body reacts in ‘fight or flight’.  

There are several other ways fear can affect us, such as the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates stress in the body, and disrupts sleep, digestion, and the healing and regeneration process.   

Fear also interrupts the mind and body’s process of regulating our emotions, which can have a ‘negative’ effect on our thinking and decision-making.

As a result, we experience heightened emotions and reacting impulsively to situations — not an ideal strategy for leading through a crisis like COVID-19.  

However, while uncertainty can have ‘negative’ mental and physical impacts on us as leaders, it can also be perceived positively, such as an opportunity for reinvention. 

The best thing we can do for ourselves as leaders right now is to continue learning and developing our ‘inner game’ through self-leadership tools and practices.

This will allow us to create a healthier and more resilient mindset to deal with fear and uncertainty as it arises in the outside world. 

How can you start self-leading through uncertainty as a business owner?

Get clarity through asking questions  

Self-inquiry through questioning develops self-awareness and understanding about ourselves and the context or situations we find ourselves in.

As we explore our thinking, feelings and behaviours, we start to recognise our strategies for things like self-doubt or stress. We discover what is true or not true about our beliefs, we find ourselves with more choice and possibility in the decisions we make, and so much more. 

As fear arises in the face of uncertainty, ask yourself:

  • What is the quality of my thoughts right now? Are these thoughts serving me? 
  • How am I feeling? What does my body need right now? 
  • How am I showing up at this moment? Is this serving me, my people, and my business? 

Bring your attention to the present 

When we are operating from a place of fear, stress or anxiety, our focus is often in the future, creating scenarios in our mind of what could go wrong or what’s not going to work out.

When we focus on the future, we are not engaging with reality; we are literally creating stories in our mind 

A great way to bring your attention back to the present is to focus on slow deep breaths and re-engaging your five senses; what can I see, hear, touch, smell feel at this moment? This grounds you in the here and now. 

Expand your perspective

If you have a habit of imaging the worst-case (negative) scenarios, or looking at life right now as ‘glass half empty’, you are only seeing a partial perspective 

Start to write a list of the best-case (positive) scenarios and opportunities, to offer a more balanced view of your current situation. This can shift your mindset and emotional response 

Focus on what is in your control 

Our thoughts, feelings, emotions, communication and behaviour are all within our control. Things like other’s opinions and actions, the weather, the economy, and a pandemic, are all examples of what sits outside of our control. 

When we shift our focus to what we can control, we hold the power for how we respond moment to moment, as opposed to reacting in fear.

Make mental + physical health a priority  

It’s pretty obvious, but when we are under stress all our good intentions can go out the window.

Our mind, body, emotions, and energy are all one system — everything is connected. What we consume, how often we move, and how well we sleep, rest and digest all influences how we show up every day 

Keep working on your ‘inner game’ 

Finally, if you want results faster, work with an experienced coach — one that focuses on developmental growth, not just professional growth, or a psychologist if this is more suitable for you right now 

Remember, self-leadership is a process. It is not a quick fix.

As a first step, allow the messages in this article to sink in, and even challenge your beliefs or question your status quo. Perhaps the topic will bother you so much that you want to do something about it.  

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