I’ve been reflecting recently on the ups and downs of running a business and wondered if all business owners feel the same at times?

I’m sure we all do, although I have always met entrepreneurs who could not be more different in style and personality. I’ve secretly admired the ‘gung ho/uber-confident go-getter’ from a distance…knowing that my style is altogether so different! More quiet and reflective…although I have my moments as some of my team will no doubt testify to!

It is a cliché to suggest we tend to be loners, content in our own company – although there is no doubt being a business leader is a lonely place at times and a natural introspectiveness may be a help when trying to make rational key decisions at times of potential extreme stress.

However, one common personality trait I have noticed is a key ability to deal with what I call ‘shades of grey’. Where most look for certainty and reassurance; a clarity in infinite detail in order to move on confidently…I have found it fascinating to witness how successful business leaders can deal with the inevitable uncertainties that business throws up every day.

That ability to make sense of a situation where there appears to be none; create a way forward amongst a fog of fact and fiction and weigh up key business decisions based on a bare minimum of facts is a rare and critical talent. Such is the way in life and such is the way in running a business. A key development for many who strive to rise through the ranks is to embrace uncertainty and be flexible enough (and happy enough) to work within its confines…however uncomfortable this may be in the short term. Weigh up the absolute minimum you need to make that next step forward…and do it very quickly. Accept there is no ‘black and white’. Just ‘shades of grey’ and act accordingly.

I used to work for a boss that had a penchant for the odd quote around the Boardroom table. One that stuck with me most was at a time when the CEO was calling for yet another piece of research to be undertaken on our never-ending entry into the Equity Release market. The desire for yet more research was never an added value piece in our decision making…more a comfort blanket for him to deal with the uncertainties of a market whose reputation at that time was less than good from a sales and morals perspective. The desire to have a finite and definite answer to an impossible set of irreconcilable human factors so nearly lost us the chance to gain a ‘first mover advantage’.

So, in Tony’s (my Marketing Director boss) inimitable style…he circled the table and declared – “Gentlemen…if it is yellow and it quacks…it’s a duck – I suggest we launch now or move on!”. It worked. Here was someone who galvanised the debate; who would lead the charge when the facts were unclear – and who would ultimately take the blame if we got it wrong! The CEO liked that!

6 weeks later we were in and leading a moral and ethical crusade as to how to offer a difficult proposition (from a very human emotional perspective) in the absolute right way and in the best interests of the families involved. We were No.1 provider within 12 months from a standing start.

So – next time you find yourself wanting more evidence; needing detailed clarity; wanting ‘black and white’ to make your decisions comfortable…accept that, in reality, business works in ‘shades of grey’ and it is those that embrace this uncertainty and can make informed; well-balanced decisions within this uncertain and uncomfortable environment that tend to come out the ‘winners’.

For further information on this or any other employment issues please contact us on 0333 006 2929 or email info@esphr.co.uk.


Author: Peter Byrne

Founder, ESP Group

Pete set up ESP Group in March 2003, after running an HR resource management business for three years. 

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