Whether small or large, no matter the industry you’re in, whether you have 1 or 300 employees, the fate of your business is determined by the decisions you make. As powerful as dominos falling, your decisions set off chain reactions throughout your organization that impact the decisions of your employees, your clients, and even your vendors. Want to know why your business is growing or shrinking? Want to know why your employees are happy or disgruntled? Want to know why you dread or love Mondays? Look no further than the business decisions you are making. Given their importance, how do you ensure that you’re making the very best decisions possible?
For you, the owner, founder, or CEO of the business, there are four pitfalls to avoid to increase the speed, effectiveness, and impact of your decisions. They are as follows:
- The Lead Dog/Top Dog Dilemma — Being your own boss is at once a blessing and a curse.
- The Pressure of Biased Input — Employees, family members, friends, business partners and colleagues are all too eager to give business advice. It’s near impossible for any of them to effectively put their biases aside.
- The Trap of Many Hats — What was a necessity in the beginning is now the lid on personal and business growth.
- The Hard Work Generates Growth Illusion — The steady injection of new and innovative information and ideas always trumps hard work.
The Lead Dog/Top Dog Dilemma
When asked why they want to be in business for themselves, aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners often say: “I want to be my own boss.” Do you recall your answer to that question? Being your own boss is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you have indeed escaped the seeming tyranny of a boss. Finally, no one gets to tell you what to do. The curse is that no one gets to tell you what to do. The business decisions you make are a function of a running monologue.
There I am sitting alone on the porch, running through all the scenarios and assessing the consequences of firing a key employee. I had convinced myself that the quiet of the late night, and a stiff drink would enhance my ability to think and make a good decision for the business. I kept looking internally, and ran my monologue until I identified a course of action that produced favorable results in similar circumstances in the past. This exercise gave me the sense that I could be making a safe decision, one that minimizes the risk of either failing or impacting the business negatively.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in similar situations. You are competent and capable. Yet, no matter the eloquence and brilliance of your monologues, you cannot act, and your business cannot grow beyond your own experiences. Your performance cannot grow beyond the circumstances and problems you’ve already dealt with. You are stuck recycling the past, hoping to grow your business.
That monologue is generated by what you already know, your expertise, your experience, and the results you have and can reliably produce on your own. Your great escape has succeeded. You are literally on your own, in front and at the top — Isolated. That’s the nature of Lead Dog/Top Dog Dilemma.
New business owners are compelled to prove to themselves and others that they can make it on their own. So they devise strategies and take actions that fortify their isolation. “It’s lonely at the top” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They shun what they need most to make the very best business decisions — a network of peers who share and understand the challenges they face.
The Pressure of Biased Input
As the owner, founder, or CEO of your business, you likely started it with family members, friends, business partners, people who are really close to you. Both you and I know their good intentions. Unfortunately, when it comes to supporting you in making critical business decisions, they have a big blind spot. As stakeholders in your business, they come with an innate and automatic, self-centered agenda, and are unaware of that handicap.
I remember all too well, how I used my mother to gang up on my dad, and convince him not to quit his job as a mechanic at a junk yard to start his own shop. I was afraid that he’d fail, and imagined the worst impact on my livelihood. Thank goodness he didn’t listen to me.
Yes, your spouse may not want you to dive into a risky space fearing that it may impact the family negatively. Your business partners may be reluctant to take on a questionable proposition fearing the impact on their equity. Employees want a raise. Clients want better prices. Vendors want bigger contracts. So, there is no one in your inner circle that has the capacity — Now notice, I did not say capability. They do have the capability. They are all smart, and have the best intentions. Unfortunately, they are inherently biased. With zero malice in the mix, they only feed you the information that they can feed you to protect their automatic agenda focused on self-preservation.
There are exceptions where self-aware internal stakeholders do create the space to give you agenda-free input. Even then, there are still aspects of the business, and personal or confidential matters that are inappropriate to discuss or share with them. So in the end, it doesn’t matter how hard you try. Your internal stakeholders cannot create for you an agenda-free environment that exists solely to promote your personal and professional growth, and help you make the very best decisions possible to grow your business.
The Trap of Many Hats
There is nothing more gratifying than the validation and confirmation of my expertise as a professional. My boss and my peers regularly sang my praises as one of the best, if not THE BEST in the field. So I figured, if I can do it for them, I should be able to do it for myself. After months of late night monologues, and conversations with my inner circle, I took the leap. I resigned from my day job and started my own business. In addition to my expertise as an engineer, I was also a freshly minted MBA. I was confident that I had the knowledge and the stamina to do whatever it takes to launch and run the business.
The problem with wearing all the hats, is that it’s impossible to wear them all at once. Each hat requires time, energy and brain power. There are only so many hours in a day, and only one me. Soon I started missing my son’s soccer games. After signing my first contract, I stopped attending regular networking meetings. I woke up early, and stayed up late to get it all done. Unfortunately, what I called “all” was just what I could do on my own. It was never enough to grow the business beyond making a living.
I was trapped, and submerged in what it takes to run the business. I had neither the time nor the mindshare to create strategies and actions to grow the business. The very approach that made it possible for me to launch the business was the same approach that trapped me and left me unable to grow. It kept me busy and small. Something had to give, or else I’d go out of business.
The successful business I run today, my family, and the fulfilled life I live, I owe to my coach. Back then, her request for me to create time away from the business was preposterous. However, I accepted the challenge. I took time to brainstorm and create growth strategies. I developed and implemented an action plan. I discovered that one hat on top of another hat, and another is not a foundation for making the very best decisions.
The Hard Work Generates Growth Illusion
The failure to distinguish and address the pitfalls outlined above leaves business owners with the illusion that “Hard Work Alone Generates Growth.”
The steady injection of new and innovative information and ideas always trumps hard work. Owners and their team members don’t have, and do not take the time to curate new and innovative information and ideas to bring into the business. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more. Why? I assert that the absence of new and innovative information and ideas, is the #1 reason. The dearth of new and innovative information and ideas leaves you, your business, and your employees starved. You, your business, and your team members shrivel and die.
New and innovative ideas fuel growth. They take your products and services in new directions, unexpected to you, your clients, and especially your competitors. Such quantum leaps never ever arise in an environment where you are isolated, where you’re only getting the biased input of your internal stakeholders, or where you are still wearing one hat on top of another and another. What does promote that, are the eyes and ears, the expertise, the experience, and the networks of outside experts and consultants and peers who share your experience and understand the challenges you’re dealing with.
Perhaps you’re just like me, you pride yourself in being a decision-maker. The important question here is: “Are you making the very best decision possible for your business every time out?” Accept my invitation to practice distinguishing the pitfalls, and practice seeing what’s possible beyond their limitations on personal and business growth.
Stay tuned as we explore those possibilities in upcoming articles. We’ll take a deeper dive and cause a transformation in the way you view yourself, your relationships with each other, and your relationship to the business. You will discover the space where you make the very best decision possible and grow your business faster.