Think you’re not smart enough? Don’t want to reveal the disorganization beneath the surface? Fear that your systems are outdated—or that you don’t have any systems?
That your outward confidence is bravado covering up your impostor syndrome?
Let me tell you a secret: everyone experiences these demons. The successes of their companies, and even their lives, depends on accepting help and advice, not keeping the curtain tightly closed to avoid exposure or momentarily losing face.
Why people do this to themselves is not my expertise. How it hurts and what they can do once they pull the curtain back is my expertise. Consider these situations:
- A 30-something entrepreneur imagines that one day he will be his generation’s Warrant Buffet. But he refuses to disclose his financial situation, gets defensive when I ask about his management practices and tells me that a 2305% return on his investment isn’t enough. As I reflect on my conversations with him, I see that it’s all bluster. Buffet isn’t the “Oracle of Omaha” because he hides behind bravado. He has his stellar reputation because he learns from others, partners with experts and shares his thinking far and wide.
- The second generation owner of a specialized consulting firm feels stuck. In fact, the company is stuck, as there have been no revenue increases in more than a year. She’s always busy, busy, busy. My hunch is that the company has continued to run on outdated processes and systems and on its culture, and the owner doesn’t want to reveal that. How can any owner take the actions needed to grow, not maintain, if they are so invested in what lies beneath the veneer of success that they refuse outside help from an experienced advisor?
- The long-time owner of an auto services company first told me that working with me “wasn’t worth it.” This in spite of the fact that with very small changes to his business, he could enjoy a 30% increase in revenue and more than 25% in profit. He relied upon two long-time friends to make his decision and they were afraid to reveal what was going on behind the scenes. After one more year of disturbingly low revenue during his low season, he called me back. We have gone on to generate a 37% revenue increase and high profit margins on new services. And it turned out that his systems are in quite good shape.
What are the tells?
I hear three objections that indicate to me that the demons are in charge.
- “Too busy.” Owners use their busyness as a cover for their insecurity about how they run their business. They are actually very busy, running from one obligation to another; what they aren’t doing is prioritizing what they spend their time and attention on. Busy does not equal worthwhile activity.
- “Too ambitious.” One out of five owners tells me that my vision of what they could accomplish by working with me is too ambitious. I realize it’s not my ambitions they have a problem with. It’s their lack of confidence they can be equally ambitious and make the best choices to reach those outcomes that’s the problem. So they avoid it altogether.
- “It’s not worth it.” This one puts the onus on me. Somehow what I am recommending is of insufficient value that they can’t accept. Not once has someone been able to tell me what combination of results and investment would be worth it to them. It’s simply a cover for their own demons.
When You Recognize Your Demons, Take STEPS
Have you considered working on your business with the help of an advisor or consultant? An expert on one aspect of your business? Someone who could give your business a boost? And then you didn’t?
Go back to that person. Tell them you’re ready to take action. Ask for something small enough that you can enjoy a quick win. I call these kind of short-term, success-generating projects STEPS. (See box below for examples.)Take one STEP. Get some confidence. Take another STEP. Enjoy some results.
In the process of these STEPS you’ll see that your demons are nothing more than myths you’ve sold yourself on. A respectful and generous outside advisor will boost your confidence, not tear it down.
Don’t let the demons be in charge. It’s hard enough to do business with competitive markets, challenging buyers and the extensive responsibilities of ownership. Get help from a trusted advisor and slay those demons once and for all.