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When the Best Path Forward is Behind You (#159)


The Confident Leader


“Robin, I’m so frustrated. I feel like I am going backward in my business. Growth is slowing and expenses are increasing,” said John the CEO of his organization. His frustration ran deeper than just going backward.

“I’m not losing ground in business; I’m just hosting a ‘Backwards Day’ event for my competitors, where they get to experience what it’s like to be behind for a change!”

— ChatGPT

This Week’s Edition

Very few like to lose ground in their professional efforts. They want to take new ground and feel like they are accomplishing something. Does going backwards always mean a negative result? 

Clarify Your Thinking

A further conversation with John revealed that he was having similar feelings in today’s economic climate as he did during the 2008 recession. 

“I lost many of my clients. Even though I didn’t lose my business, I spent the next seven years rebuilding it. It was the hardest season of my life.” 

Like many leaders, John would love for the growth of his business to move up and to the right – linear and predictable.  

As leaders, it can be frustrating when we experience challenges that make us feel like we are losing ground. That pressure can even trigger some professional PTSD from previous challenging times. 

A mentor once shared with me, “Robin, in life and in business, sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.” Earlier in my career this trite statement would have garnered an eye roll. I was on my way up! There was no time to go backward. I could muscle through anything.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it is that the world is unpredictable. “Going backward” (i.e., slower growth, higher expenses, less profit, etc…) is a reality that occurs without regard to our skill, expertise, past successes or our new strategies. 

Our emotional experience related to going backward is referred to as Loss Aversion Bias – a person is more affected by loss than by gain. We would rather not lose than win. This bias of our brain (designed to keep us alive) may cause confident leaders to question themselves. 

Old Thinking: How do I not lose in this situation. Should I cut marketing expenses? Do a layoff? Not give bonuses? I can’t go backward. I’m afraid I will have to rebuild my business again.

New Thinking: Whoa… I hate going backward, but I have to resist playing not to lose and focus on playing to win. What are options I’m not thinking of?

Thoughts Lead to Actions

Recently on a plane, I heard a familiar statement:

“In an emergency, should we have to evacuate, find the nearest exit. Remember the nearest exit might be behind you.”

It occurred to me that the airlines know that we are not wired to look backward, especially in emotional situations like an emergency evacuation. BUT… sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.

Consider these steps to be reminded that considering going backward may be a viable option:

Step 1: Recognize that you may be triggered by the possibility of backsliding. 

Step 2: In those situations, redefine success if the original measure of success is not attainable. 

Step 3: Seek out additional information and new perspectives. This will allow you to pivot and be more open to ideas that may seem like going backward. 

John is working through redefining success during this challenging period of time to stem the visceral feeling of going backward. Today’s experience is not necessarily yesterday’s professional nightmare. What else could be true?

Boost Your Performance

In this week’s video, learn how professional soccer players use going backward as a key strategy… not a limitation that throws them into playing not to lose. 

What’s Your Opinion?

How do you handle your leadership when you feel like you are sliding backward? Share it with me at

If you are going to be a leader, you might as well be a good one. Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

We live to make bad leadership extinct so forward this newsletter to others who strive to be confident leaders. 


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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.