going for itBusiness is full of ups and downs. These are created by a combination of market forces, luck and our preparedness. We also go through natural ups and downs.

What happens when a good mood coincides with a good period of business? It can be a fantastic window when opportunity joins strength and will. I had one of these happen two years ago when the planets aligned to give me a chance to land a new client who was out of my league. But I was in a particularly “go get it” mood (my friends called me interminable). The group wanted what I had to offer. We’ve had a great relationship ever since.

On the other hand, sometimes results can be disastrous. The money I have on hand gets poured into some hair-brained, half thought through “opportunity” and it all gets cast to the wind! Have you ever seen all your savings washed away by one mistake? I did that last year, thinking this particular conference was the opportunity of the year. Only to find out it was a complete waste of time and money. Ah hindsight….

But how can we insure against the downside of this “up/up” alignment? I can suggest at least a few things from experience, but before I give them, let me explain the idea of being a Ulysses leader.

You’ve probably heard the name before. Ulysses (also known as Odysseus) was the legendary king of Ithaca in Greece and the hero of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.” He displayed cunning intelligence again and again in battle. One day he sailed past the island of the Sirens and told his crew to fill their ears with wax (so they couldn’t hear) and tie him to the mast of the ship (so he could hear but not move). In this way he steeled himself and his crew against their enchanting song, which had lured many before him to jump to their deaths.

How Do We Steel against the Sirens’ Song?

1. Set some boundaries.

When trading commodities you set a cage: an upper and lower limit that will trigger if your predictions are wrong. In an auction you would give yourself a maximum upper limit, above which you refuse to buy the property. Set some boundaries for your business.

2. Allow someone to tie you to the mast.

Do you have someone in your world who has permission to “call you” on the big decisions? For solopreneurs or small business owners this is probably your spouse or long-term partner. For me, it is my business partner. Great leaders will allow others to call them on the high-risk decisions.

3. Know when to say no before you have to say no.

Willpower is a limited resource. Things can look so attractive and so tempting at the time, and you are probably going to give in. So, decide in advance when to say no before you have to. This is called making an agreement with your future self.

4. Have someone dispassionately check your “great” idea.

Is there someone completely outside your world, your industry or your orbit that can get a clear look at this opportunity? Maybe it’s a business mentor, or a parent or a friend who is overseas? Make it a point to ask them for their advice.

When you work alone, it is too tempting to chase the next big thing or the newest shiny object. The Sirens will sing, and when they do, you will want to have your boundaries in place, and the sage, outside opinion of one – or several – people.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share your experiences or suggestions in the comments below.