Self-mastery for leaders: the key to business success

Scaling a business can be relentless and challenging.

Even the most competent, charismatic and ambitious leader will fall short if they lack the personal foundation needed to effectively deploy their skills. It is essential as a leader or founder to invest in yourself and learn the two elements of self-mastery – mind mastery and energy mastery - to ensure your business is successful as it grows.

Mind mastery

Your mind is like an iceberg with over 90% of it working below the level of your conscious awareness. You are not directly aware of the large majority of what your brain tells you to do. This isn’t great when it comes to the fears, beliefs and assumptions we hold, and the mistakes we habitually make because of them. Two subconscious processes that most commonly block success and inhibit founders from playing their A-game are unmet ego needs and negative beliefs.

Ego needs

Ego needs are established in your formative years and / or as a result of traumatic experiences and are reinforced through the repeated choices you make in adult life. When ego needs, like the need for control or the need for approval, are unmet it causes negative emotions. These negative emotions in turn bounce into a set of unhelpful ‘shadow’ patterns of thinking and acting that have developed as survival mechanisms over our lifetime. Perhaps we bounce into people-pleasing or approval-seeking, or into aggression and argumentativeness. Perhaps we bounce into overworking or overpromising, into isolating or avoiding, or into judging or criticising. These shadow behaviours end up netting us the very opposite of what we need.

Hacking ego needs

If you want to understand where your deeply held fears and psychological needs come from, see a therapist. If you want a super-quick hack to get out from under them, try a simple, though not easy, three-step process:

Step 1: Understand your top three core ego needs. Ask yourself – what situations are most likely to trigger me, and what is the ego need that might be at threat there. Examples may include the need for approval, control, certainty, fairness or the need to be valued, listened to, included.

Step 2: Understand your top five shadow patterns of behaving and thinking. Ask yourself, what are you like on a really bad day? How do you think and behave?

Step 3: Every time you spot your ego needs being triggered, do the exact opposite of your shadow patterns.

The negative belief cycle

While fears and negative emotions bounce you into shadow behaviours that become self-sabotaging, beliefs and negative assumptions can play out in a similarly unhelpful fashion. The only way to prevent negative beliefs from becoming self-fulfilling cycles is to spot your beliefs and assumptions, and work hard to challenge or overcome them. One way to rewire an unhelpful negative belief by flooding your brain with information that contradicts it.

Hacking the negative belief cycle

Once you recognise how self-defeating many of your negative beliefs and assumptions are, you’ll become more motivated to do the work to shift them. Here is a three-step process for dismantling unhelpful negative beliefs:

Step 1: Identify the unhelpful negative belief and how it’s serving you. For example, your negative belief might be that someone is no good at their job. It serves you because you get to feel superior, and don’t need to put energy into helping them improve.

Step 2: Look for evidence to contradict the belief and / or find alternative explanations for the facts.

Step 3: Act as if you believe the opposite.

It’s hard work to reprogramme a belief, however, you want your business to be run by the best version of you, not by fears and negative beliefs. You may need to find a trusted buddy, mentor or coach to help you through this.

Energy mastery

Stress, overwhelm and exhaustion are ubiquitous among founders. Even if you’re not at risk of burnout, your levels of stress, overwhelm and exhaustion will negatively impact the quality and effectiveness of your leadership.

You want your business run by the best version of you and Energy Mastery is a precondition of that. Energy Mastery can’t be something you try to squeeze in around the edges of your eighteen-hour work day if you’re going to survive as a founder and genuinely give your business what it needs. Self-care has to come first, not last. If you put it first, everything else becomes first class. There’s no one right way to master your energy – the only wrong way is not to do it at all.

The three energy tanks

A simple model to use when thinking about Energy Mastery is the three energy tanks. Imagine yourself with three tanks on your back, like the air tanks a diver would use. These three tanks represent your reserves of physical, mental and emotional energy. At any time, you are either drawing on or refilling these reserves of energy through the activities you are engaged in. Certain activities deplete your reserves while others refill them. If you’re regularly running on empty, you can use the framework of the three tanks to create your own extreme self-care regime which will help you stay fit for the founder marathon.

The stress-o-meter

Another framework you can use to think through your energy mastery is to imagine you have a stress-o-meter, like a rev counter in a car which in theory, tracks your levels of stress, from one to ten. Identify the things that increase your revs. Lots of caffeine, not enough time between meetings, brooding on something that has happened or might happen, negative self-talk, running late or trying to do too much too fast are pretty typical rev increasers. Once you’ve identified them, think about how to reduce your revs. You could cut out coffee, only drink alcohol on the weekend, practice simple breathing techniques, take a walk etc.

Aim to keep your stress-o-meter revving below a five out of ten each day. Stress is the founder’s constant companion and the fight-or-flight response it triggers is one of the biggest threats to your ability to survive and thrive as a founder. You need to find a way to calm your mind, slow down your thoughts and access a sense of peace and calm. There’s no one right tool for everyone. Experiment with a few things and find one that you can practise daily. By understanding the importance of the two elements of self-mastery and adopting the techniques to keep your mind and energy in check, you’ll be in a much better place to scale your business.