The other day I was running errands and stopped at my bank. I went inside, did my business, and went back to my car. As I sat there checking emails, I was surprised by my passenger door opening with a young lady standing there.
She looked up at me, shrieked, and said “Oh my God!”
I looked at her then noticed that across the parking lot behind her was a vehicle exactly like mine with her husband sitting in it startled with a surprise too.
She apologized and gently closed my car door, exiting to her vehicle.
I shouted at her husband, asking him if he wanted to keep her. He said “Yes, I do.”
I said “Well, she’s all yours. Have a nice day!”
As we both drove away, I was thinking about FOCUS.
Clearly that young lady was very focused on something. So focused that she ignored the distance between her car and mine, simply letting the “impression” of a similar car influence her choice for opening the door.
I too was very focused on emails form my phone and ignored her approaching my car until it was too late and she had swung open the door.
It made for a good laugh, but could have been far worse.
As leaders, we can get so laser-focused on an idea we lose sight of other opportunities or we ignore facts and circumstances that could impact our outcome.
When was the last time you got focused like that?
I have the odd opportunity to work with leaders on both ends of the business spectrum. I coach executives in some of the largest companies on the globe, like ExxonMobil and UPS. I also coach entrepreneurs and sole proprietors who are busy building new companies.
Yet the similarities I see are common to both. Running an organization requires thoughtful, dedicated leadership. Good management is not enough. You have to demonstrate real leadership. (I’ve written about the differences between management and leadership HERE).
Leaders can get blinded by ideas that create an intense focus on going one way or another. Once choices are made, nothing will persuade them to change direction. That can have a disasterous effect.
It’s one thing to be committed to a decision. Sure, the team wants you, their leader, to be certain on which way you want to go.
However, putting your head down once the decision is made can be problematic.
It’s a Tricky Balancing Act
I realize it can be tricky to be decisive yet open to other input. I do believe there are ways you can still make solid decisions and stay sensitive to things happening around you.
Here are some of the best ways I’ve seen work.
First, keep your team engaged. Just because you made the decision doesn’t mean your team should be shut off from reporting changes. For some reason I’m thinking about the submarine Captain and his crew. You’ve likely seen the war movies, you know what I mean. The Captain shouts an order but the crew is reporting back information they see on their monitors.
Next, have a reporting mechanism that works. In Six Sigma process improvement, there is a model known as DMAIC. It is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.
DMAIC is the core of continuous imporvement of your process. By following these steps, you gain insights that you might not otherwise pay attentiion to.
Lastly, maintain communication with your team. Engage them for their valuable input. Even once the “ship” is underway, you have to allow course corrections to maintain a successful voyage. (Watch Greyhound with Tom Hanks to know what I mean here).
The Leader’s Challenge
The next time you make a big decision, don’t forget about keeping your eyes open for situation and circumstance around you changing. Don’t let your focus be so blinding that external factors get missed of overlooked.
Starting and running a small business can be a blessing and a curse. The dream can become a nightmare. Yet there can be great rewards too.
There are so many things that can get in the way of running and owning a successful business. You hear people talk about “cash is king” or growing the sales pipeline, closing more deals, making payroll, and creating satisfied customers.
While these are all very significant issues for a business owner there is one thing that is even bigger than all of these put together. Do you have any idea what it may be?
Wait for it…..
Your ego. Yep. Good old fashioned pride.
Let me get straight to the point.
Small Business Owner’s Fear
Letting your pride or ego get in the way can be the exit ramp to disaster. On one hand, entrepreneurs must be fearless. They have to start with a whole lot of courage. For that, I applaud you.
Think about it. You hear stories of people quitting their day job to start a business. That takes guts and sheer willpower.
However, that same dogged determination can become the owner’s death sentence too.
The Paradox of Success
Many years ago I wrote a piece I call the “Paradox of Success.” I got this idea after watching dozens of my banking clients go through similar situations. It goes like this.
For those of you who have actually ventured out to start your own company, you understand the intense effort and tremendous satisfaction you achieve by watching the company grow.
Those first few profit dollars start to roll in. Real profit, free and clear. No debt, no more obligations to pay off, pure, real profit. For all the planning, sweat equity, real equity investment, and down-right hard work, you eventually arrive at the threshold of the very thing you set out to accomplish…. SUCCESS!
Ah, but beware. The very thing you strive so hard to achieve, that is your company’s success, can start the downward spiral to eventual destruction. Perhaps even the infamous “implosion” of the company. That is the phenomenon called the Paradox of Success. In other words, success brings failure. How can that be? Let’s explore the full timeline.
First the Beginnings
As was described, the founder sets out to open his or her own business. Perhaps it is a sole proprietor, maybe “Mom and Pop”. It can even be a couple of good friends who decide to start something together. The actual legal structure does not particularly matter at this point.
The focus is on getting going and having that first order come through the door. Days and weeks go by. The founder(s) perform all the daily chores….everything! Sales, marketing, bookkeeping, systems, purchasing, supplies, advertising, contracts, payables, receivables, answering phones, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms…everything!
Next, business starts to grow. The word is out. Your business has something people want and need. Your service ideas are working very well. Customers like what you have. Word of mouth even starts to grow. You are getting business from sources you had not really thought about at the start.
Finally, the business becomes more than you and your partner can handle. You decide to hire your first employees. This becomes turning point number one. New employees do not bring the same levels of dedication, commitment, and energy you had when you started the business. Your ideas are not their ideas. You must start to train and coach to be sure the new guys on the bus are fully on board.
Moving Further Toward Success
The service levels you created and nurtured must be sustained. The principles on which you founded the business must be reinforced. There needs to be a feedback process and a monitoring mechanism to be sure your values and principles are being followed.
Almost daily you feel the tug of contention for your time. The time spent to make the direct business contacts you enjoyed making at the start must now be juggled with the effort to resolve internal issues. Perhaps you add a few more hours to the week. Certain tensions become more frequent.
With employees present, interpersonal matters start to creep in. Sally doesn’t like Susie. Bob and Ted argue over sports teams and their preference in cars they drive. None of this is contributing the business. The founders become referees. Hostilities can even boil over when customers are present. A lack of leadership or even a momentary lapse of leadership can become significant. Who can handle these things?
Phase Two Begins – Leadership
Then, mid-managers are hired or appointed. Surely the owners can rely upon other seasoned professionals to handle the staff issues and keep the ship sailing. Now a new layer is created.
For all the potential good that can be accomplished here, there comes a trade-off. Again, the founders’ values have to be enforced, promoted, espoused, heralded, and cheered about.
Can the mid-manages carry the same flag? All the while the growth in volume creates a strain on the original infrastructure. Are the same tools and equipment that were used to open the business still effective? Have systems started to suffer? This can include everything from the high end network servers to the staplers.
And more importantly, who is truly watching over these areas. Have the partners brought the right skills on their own to address all the issues? Accountability for all aspects of business growth becomes more meaningful. If cash and checks are being handled, controls must be implemented. Growth across state lines adds to the compliance and regulatory burden. Specialists have to be added to the mix like legal counsel, accountants, IT professionals, etc.
The False Security
The very essentials that can help grow and expand the business become challenges to the owners. Volumes and profits continue to rise. A false sense of security here can be deadly. A failure to admit the changes that are happening underneath and any inability to properly respond to those changes can, at any point hereafter, start the spin downward.
Really this stage represents the first major turning point for the founders. The biggest and most honest question that can be asked is “Am I capable of keeping this going or do I need senior management help?”
All too often ego may enter in and prevent the good hard look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. True Leaders with a solid track record behind them have been the first to ask this question and work with the right answer. And they do it with almost perfect timing.
Yet for the owner suffering a big ego, the right questions never get asked. The talk with the person in the mirror sounds more like this…
“Wow, things seem to be ramping up. You really did it.”
“Yes, I did.”
“It feels different now, but that’s nothing to worry about.”
“Just keep it going. We’ll be fine.”
Then one day the wheels fall off. The big accounts start to go elsewhere. Your pricing gets squeezed and you have no answer. The market shifts out from under you and you missed the warning signs.
Or worse yet, your team abandons you because they hate working with you. The few customers you have left eventually leave because the service is terrible.
It happens in all kinds of business. Every day. The tipping point is where the owner’s ego gets bigger than even the greatest of success.
A Cautionary Tale for Small Business?
Maybe so. But it doesn’t have to be. You can get help. You should get help. Is today the day? Business advisors or coaches can help you make sense of the new levels of growth and prosperity. They can help you see you way to even higher levels of success.
But you have to make the call. Don’t let ego stop you.
You might be offended by that question. Yet if you think about it, so many of us are living just that way.
What do I mean? I mean going through your life and career without a purpose. You might be riding the wave of circumstances. Some things were great experiences, others not so much.
You might have built a successful career, but are you feeling fulfilled? Will your legacy matter to anyone?
I meet a lot of professionals who went the route of working for big corporate giants. They made it through 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years then something happens. A merger or a market crash causes the company to downsize. They land on the shortlist of people heading out the door.
As they face the uncertainty of job hunting, they are bewildered, even empty. They don’t know what they want to do.
But how did you let that happen? More importantly, how can you change it now or avoid it entirely?
That Sense of Purpose
It all starts with finding a sense of purpose. As Mark Twain so eloquently wrote:
If you have never figured out the why question, then you have some work to do. The best advice I could ever give you is to figure out your why.
The PPP guides you on a journey exploring key areas in your life. It challenges you to evaluate what is important and what is not. More importantly it makes you decide on outcomes you want to create in each of the important areas.
Having this sense of purpose will shape and mold the choices you make. Instead of living the usual life of wage, page, and sage, you could live a more rewarding and purposeful life.
Wage, Page, Sage Stages of Life
The wage, page, and sage version of life goes something like this. Your early years are all about the wage. What can I get paid? Yes, you might be choosing a specialty, but you still focus on getting the best pay for the work you do.
Then you start turning pages. Getting married, having kids, buying a house, etc. You’re flipping the pages of life.
Finally, you reach the sage role. Your years of experience naturally set you up for people to look to you because of your seniority. You can either share it freely or be bitter about life not turning the way you hoped (whatever that was).
Either way, the messages you share will influence those around you; bringing them closer because of your wisdom, or pushing them away because you’ve turned into a curmudgeon.
However, living ‘on purpose’ creates a certain intentionality in the things you do, the choices you make, and the people you hang out with.
Once you decide on a purpose, you won’t settle for less. You won’t take a job just to get a paycheck. Oh sure there may be desperate times due to outside forces, but in the long run, you will stay on course.
You will look for the right fit in a job and the right direction to move you on the journey to fulfill your purpose.
The people you choose to associate with will also change depending on the focus you create. I’m not saying all relationships are bad, but many are less than helpful for keeping you on track. It is easy to get distracted by friendships that don’t encourage you and keep you centered on your chosen path.
Finding your personal purpose is not as hard as some people make it out to be. There are simple yet profound ways you can discover exactly what your were meant to be doing.
If you need help uncovering and discovering your purpose, call a coach. Call me. Stop living your happy accident. Get intentional. Live ‘on purpose.’
If your business has stopped growing at the pace you want, a business advisor may be your next step. Even the best athletes rely on coaching to sharpen their skills and find that next step up to find a competitive edge.
Business owners or senior executives can get stuck in old habits and routines that stifle creativity, growth, and ability to build stronger teams.
Allowing someone to come alongside to walk with you through your effort can pay big rewards.
I have served as a business advisor to hundreds of client companies. After spending 20+ years in commercial banking, my career shifted to business consulting and advising with business owners in all kinds of niches.
The benefits of having your own personal advisor are tremendous.
You get a private sounding board for your ideas
You get a personal accountability resource to keep you on course
You get to break through the “lonely at the top” syndrome
You get an experienced guide who has been there, done that
With business consulting you gain a new perspective, fresh eyes to see your business differently. A qualified outside advisor can bust through roadblocks and help you reveal blind spots in your own view of your business.
While your idea for your business may be a great one, likely you need other skills to operate the business. What would it look like if you had access to a broader skillset for running your company the right way? I can show you those things.
As a bonus, besides running my own coaching and business consulting practice, I am part of a network of senior advisors know as the Silver Fox Advisors. With this group of proven business leaders, if I can’t help you with a problem, I have others who we can call on.
When you went into business, likely you had a vision for what it could be. If that vision has become clouded or uncertain, we can work together to redefine the possibilities and plot a course for getting to that dream result.
Your business can grow beyond your wildest dreams. Stop working in the business and work on the business with advisors or consulting services I can do for you.
You work hard with your business. Why not get the best possible return for the effort? All great heroes have guides to help them on the journey and show the way. Aren’t YOU the hero of your journey? Let me be your guide.