When you are the problem in your own business | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

Bringing about change in any organization or business is usually not an easy task. It is especially difficult when the leader of the organization is not able to imagine that they might be a part of the problem they are interested in solving.

In my experience, business leaders will often do many things, including spend lots of money replacing employees before they will consider that the problems they are facing have something to do with themselves.

There you are, you own the business, you have the best of intentions, you have a great work ethic, and you work long hours, yet you cannot get people who can either perform or will perform in the manner you need. I mean, it is obvious you know what you are doing. It is they who are the problem.

What are you supposed to do about them?

You may think I am being a bit over the top here, but maybe not.

As the business owner, finding out that you are not the right person to be in charge, and you are in fact creating as many problems as you are solving can be a rude awakening.

Many years back, when I owned my consulting business, I was sure that it was my responsibility to make the important decisions and run the business day to day. We had our ups and downs for several years. We survived.

About the best I was ever able to do as the person in charge was get everything to level before it went under again. But getting the business to grow was simply not something I was able to accomplish beyond a certain point.

Fortunately for me and for my employees, I was not one to automatically blame others (I might get around to it eventually), and I constantly looked at what I might do to make better decisions.

On a recommendation from a friend, I read a small book by Michael Gerber titled “The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It.”

From reading the book I learned that the most common mistake many small-business owners make is thinking that just because they own the business, they should be running it.

It dawned on me at that time that my talents were valuable, just not right for running the operations of the business. It wasn’t going to matter how hard I worked at it. My strength was consulting and coaching, not business operations.

In a matter of months I found a new partner—someone who had considerable management experience and was very interested in seeing what he could bring to the business to make it grow, since he really believed in what we were doing.

Simply put, this was the best single decision I ever made as the owner. Within a short period of time, the business was both stabilized and on a solid footing for growth—and I slept much better at night, and so did the employees.

You know what? If you are the source of the problem, your employees know it. They just may not have much room to bring it to your attention.

All of this came to mind again last week when I ran across an article in the McKinsey Quarterly Newsletter titled “Change leader, change thyself,” which focuses on the necessity of understanding why you have the problems you have before you start solving them.

Now when you hear the name, McKinsey, you may think that its work applies to larger organizations. I would say that yes, it does primarily work with larger organizations, but that is more an issue of its business model than of whether the knowledge it has applies to smaller businesses too.

Here are a few quotes from the article I am referencing: “Taking accountability as a leader today includes understanding your motivations and other inner drives.”

“Simply put, change efforts often falter because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves.”

“A new strategy will fall short of its potential if it fails to address the underlying mind-sets and capabilities of the people who will execute it.”

I think you can see from these few words that the article focuses on you knowing yourself better as a business owner, leader or manager.

In the business world today, and in the world in general, the more you know yourself—how you think, your strengths, your limitations, biases, preferences, beliefs and much more—then the better able you are to recognize how you have something to do with the problems you see in front of you.

But you need an outside perspective to help you see yourself. Read the article. Buy Gerber’s book. It’s a start.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.


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