Regrets. We toil and lose sleep over them. "If only I had" and "I wish I never had" take a leading role in the story of our businesses and lives. We play the part of the blindsided business owner, the one who wishes he or she had known better, or maybe we're the one who was too busy to see the writing on the wall. Admit it: You've had a day where you woke up regretting that you ever got into this whole business ownership thing in the first place.
And that right there, that feeling—it sucks.
It's time to kick regret (and the way we think about it) in the backside. Spin it around and use it as a tool to change our thought processes and with it, our businesses. With a little mindset shift, we just might discover that we can replace the words "I regret" with "I'm so glad that I learned." Think it's impossible? It's not. I talked to the following eight executives, who share their stories of moving past the regret and on to success.
Regret #1: The Harsh Realities of People and Business
"A year ago, I made what I thought was a good economic decision for the business, but it turns out that in the process, I forgot the most important thing about our organization: the people. My assumptions added unnecessary stress to the great team that is the foundation of our success. Under the somewhat difficult circumstances that resulted, I was reminded that in order for our company to grow and succeed, our people always needed to come first."—Phil Hollows, Founder and CEO of Feedblitz
Regret # 2: Where You Spend Your Time in the Business
"As a leader, I regret not spending more time on leadership activities as opposed to management activities. As CEO, I am really the only one that can do these items, and if I am not doing them, then the company is not moving forward. Those leadership activities would be vision, planning, following up with people and communicating the vision and plan with our team members."—Bill Prettyman, President and CEO of Wise
Regret #3: Where You Allocate Resources
"I would say that my greatest regret is putting significant resources behind a non-core service area—in this case, the mortgage verification market, which is really a commodity-level service. While this practice helped fuel our growth in the early years, market characteristics driving demand began to fade in the third year or so—and declined precipitously after that. We just elected to exit that market and are now putting those precious resources into new areas of growth.
"What I take away from this experience is that I could have—and probably should have—taken faster action on eliminating that area when the market trends first became apparent. The good news is that we are now much more efficiently organized and focused on our core competency and the highest possible value proposition that we can bring to our customers."—Arnette F. Heintze, Co-Founder and CEO of Hillard Henitze
Regret #4: Staying in Your Comfort Zone
"Starting a business is daunting. I remember being overly cautious about business opportunities that were outside my comfort level. My goal was to focus only on the things I knew well. Looking back, it was when I challenged myself to get outside my comfort zone that I grew professionally. Learning that it was OK to fail actually brought me to success."—Jim Wong, Founder and CEO of Brilliant Financial Search
"As I look back on eMusic, one real regret was not being confident in my instincts and vision when others who were more experienced were pushing back on that vision. I didn't understand at the time that I could see a new market that they couldn't—their experience limited their frame of reference and kept them from intrinsically understanding the disruption we were bringing. So now I know: Going with your gut—especially when you are creating new markets—is key."—Gene Hoffman, CEO of Vindicia and Founder of eMusic
Each of these executives could have let a regret hold them back. Instead, they used that regret to fuel the next stage of their business. A mistake made can certainly be a lesson learned, and it's our choice whether we end up as martyrs or the manufacturers of the future as we'd like to see it. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be the manufacturer. I'll leave the rest to Joan of Arc.
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