Regrets … CEOs Apparently Have Quite a Few

By Russ Riendeau, Ph.D.

Geez, with this many regrets, who’s got time to do business?

I wrote an article that touched on work-life balance issues and missing out on time with family and loved ones. And this raised a number of very poignant, personal questions.

1) What was it about this topic that resonated so quickly with CEOs? What did they learn or want to learn from the topic of regrets? Right in the middle of a nasty recession, why would chief executives choose this article and topic to read more than hundreds of other articles on business and financial issues?

2) Did the readers change something in their lives after reading the story? Did they stop engaging in behaviors that were leading to or causing stress that was leading to regrets? Were the suggestions in the article really relative and adaptable to the lives of CEOs?

The topic of regrets is a very personal and guarded discussion among executives in all cultures throughout the world. To disclose regrets — especially men in a society with expectations all-too-demanding and impossible to uphold — is dangerous territory of the heart, in the board room, at the negotiating table, or in the divorce courts.

Regrets are all too often guarded behind our executive persona, stored in a closet where we keep things that we won’t be needing for awhile. And when exhumed from the closet, these emotional possessions are moldy, tarnished, outdated — useless if you try to repair them.

In the world of CEOs and business owners, we as individuals, consultants, spouses, Vistage chairs and executives, need to understand the correlation between how and why decisions are made and why other decisions are not.

The emotional and psychological tug-of-war between corporate duty and duty to the family, to self, to the community, is a thick rope with many knots. To take into account how regrets can creep up in our lives is critical thinking of the deepest kind because only we can begin to make changes to our behaviors that perpetuate the ultimate outcome — more regrets.

Another challenge of regrets is the fact that we can’t just “go back and fix it.”

We can’t retrieve the memories, the times we missed, the missing pictures or stories, the smells, tastes and scenery of those events we “heard” about, but weren’t there to experience. Some individuals with deep regrets attempt to make amends at some point with overly excessive gifts — trips, well-intentioned events to recreate or replace events they missed with their once-younger family members.

Unfortunately, these events and suggestions often fall on deaf ears; the parties involved have moved past the missing events and they have developed new relationships and commitments. And this process is natural, healthy and not a defense mechanism — it’s simply a maturing of the person.

So now what?

What can you do to restructure your daily life to not only reduce the regrets and turmoil you’ll experience down the road, but to revitalize your day with more enjoyment, balance and listening to those around you?

Here’s a five-day prescription for you to being today to help halt the wrong behaviors and begin anew. If you’re not willing to engage in this personal exercise, then you may be scared you’ll find something you don’t want to know. Have the guts (yes, guts) to do this, and feel the change in you.

You’ll be surprised.

Here’s your corporate prescription for change:

1. Day One: Find a quiet, private place to sit down and write out (don’t just think, write them down) six things in your life that you regret doing or not doing, relative to your spouse, children, friends, or your health or financial condition. Carry this list in your pocket for 24 hours.

2. Day Two:  Look at the list you created and pick the top two items that cause you the most emotional pain or stress, unhappiness or frustration on a regular basis — the two most important to address right now. Say out loud: “I am going to begin to change how I deal with these two critical elements in my life.” Hear the words ring out. Let them sink in.

3. Day Three: Talk with your spouse or significant other and share the list you’ve written. If you truly have confidence in your relationship, you can find the courage to share your goals and ideas to change starting today. Ask this person to help you with ideas for change and ask for support.

4. Day Four: Block out three one-week vacations right now on your calendar and tell your family.

5. Day Five: Today is the day you start doing one thing differently to refocus your daily life, health and commitment to yourself to become more balanced, happy, humble, and self aware.

As you feel the changes begin to take place, share your lessons with another person you know who may be struggling with this same challenge.

They will appreciate your insights — this will be a difficult but worthwhile conversation.

It’s not easy to talk about. It’s not easy to make changes that are an acknowledgement of faults in behavior and actions. It’s not easy to change things overnight.

In the last few years of very difficult times for families and businesses, CEOs are challenged like never before to be all things to all people.

It’s a difficult job. I’ve spoken with hundreds of executives this year and they all say they struggle with this issue. Share your stories and listen to those around you for ideas and support. You have the power to make the change.

You won’t regret it.

Russ Riendeau is the founder of East Wing Group, Inc., an executive search firm and also a Vistage member/speaker on leadership topics. Russ holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. He writes about research in behavioral science and business-related issues. He can be reached at
Originally published: Sep 12, 2011

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