We are so grateful to Dan for sharing his article with us and for Mike Loomis for connecting us!
— by Dan Cooper
After I sold my company in 2012, I became what lots of former owners become: a consultant. It’s a good way to use your skills to help others and figure out what you want to be when you grow up – again.
Consulting also happens to squelch that sucking sound of cash leaving your bank account. Besides, I’m also not the kind of guy who can sit around and chill. I’m a business nerd so helping others with their business is my idea of fun.
And lying can be fun, too.
I first found out that entrepreneurs were liars when I did my first couple of assignments. I’d speak to a company’s owner about a specific issue, and create a scope of work to understand the challenge (which in simplified terms would be to do an assessment by talking to people inside and outside the company, reporting those results, and stating steps to correct the problem).
If you are still reading this, you might be thinking, “Those darn consultants! They just write down what you already know and sell it back to you.”
That’s not necessarily a lie--but someone has to tell the emperor they have no clothes. For some reason, a consultant’s report is a great way to get angry at a piece of paper instead of the actual people and systems that created the problem in the first place.
At the end of these projects I would get a hearty “Thanks! We’re going to have Fred implement these. Let’s chat again sometime.”
I’d check back six months later and (you guessed it) nothing was implemented. And nothing changed.
Lying to myself
Stumped by this trend I thought I simply needed to work inside the company to implement these changes. So I found several opportunities to join the team as COO, and come alongside the CEO, to become a change management initiator.
This had to be better, right? Nope, the results were even worse. I’d do the same assessment and plan--and even had the authority to implement the changes. What was the problem?
The person at the top. They created new, improved roadblocks and special circumstances: “Dan, you don’t understand Jane. We’ve always done it that way.” And we would part ways with a polite, “Thanks.”
Something wasn’t adding up. These entrepreneurs wanted to solve problems and grow their company, right
These experiences formed “the liars list.” These are aspects of businesses (your business) that you’re probably lying to yourself about. My CEO clients weren’t lying to me. In fact, they were forthright about the challenges and their shortcomings. But the fact that they lied to themselves was hurting the company. Did I do that when I ran my company?
The Liars List: What entrepreneurs lie about
The Current Situation:
There is a certain kind of entrepreneur – usually the sales-centric owner who is so sure they can sell their way out of everything that they either don’t want to know the extent of the challenge, or minimize it so the team doesn’t “feel bad.”
They lie to themselves (and their team) because you can’t sell your way out of a broken organization. These are the companies that go from profitable to hearing they have two months of cash left. And they need a miracle client to save the day. (And everyone knows, a miracle client takes at least three months to acquire.)
You are lying to yourself when you talk in big generalities about something that isn’t going well. For example: “Sales are trending down.”
At one company a leader of the account management group was responsible for two million dollars of lost business in the previous quarter. He’d run the departments for five years, but those losses were blamed on the previous regime.
Identifying the problem as “slowing sales” means you’ll probably apply the wrong solution--or not even know what to do. It’s like saying the problem with the Titanic was that the ship was sinking. The problem was the gaping hole.
Fix the hole and the ship stops sinking. The problem is that person. Make a change.
In this case, he was then promoted to the executive team. That’s a Dilbert cartoon, not your company.
I get it, when you’ve worked together for a decade, there are deep roots and it’s hard to move on. But when you remove someone who’s a hole in your ship, I always hear, “I wish we would have done that months/years ago! Our culture improved almost overnight.
“It’s not about the money” and “It’s all about the money.” No it’s not. And yes it is.
Don’t lie to yourself. Without money, and more specifically profit, you have no company. You have no team. And your business will have no impact. Deciding how you want to use the platform and resources in your company is key.
Do you want to have a lifestyle business, grow in order to exit, pass on to your kids or executive team? Great! Your team selection, goals, strategy, investment, and risk profile should match. Too many CEOs give their teams—and themselves—whiplash when long-term and short-term financial goals are not clear.
We want to grow to the next level:
Every ten-year-old wants to be a cool high-schooler. But are they excited about an awkward puberty?
Growth means change. Change means pain.
If you want to grow, be honest with yourself (and your team) and embrace the tough choices and the turmoil.
By the way, you can only navigate these choppy waters with a clear goal.
Your exit plan:
I lied to myself. After ten years I thought I’d be working in the company I built for the rest of my life.
Due to some partner challenges, pride, ego, (and some lawyers) I sold and walked away. Nothing is forever. Even if you run a company for your lifetime, eventually you’ll need to cash out, give it away, transition, or divest your business. You can put your head in the sand or leave it to your spouse to worry about, or you can start looking into options and make a plan.
Have you ever met a “serial entrepreneur” with a funny history? She may have started a shoe company, sold cattle, worked in advertising, and now owns an IT shop? Your story can read like that (in a good way) if you get real about your limitations--and real about your life goals.
Stop the lies!
As a coach to lying entrepreneurs, and an entrepreneurial liar myself, I had to find a way to help business owners make the changes they say they want. Because I believe entrepreneurs really do want to see the truth--in themselves and their business.
You can become a better leader, grow your company, and impact the lives of your employees, vendors, and community.
But it will take daily dosage of the Three Cs:
First, we all need feedback from other business owners. And, frankly, other business owners need your perspective and counsel. We need your truth to help us see past the lies we (unintentionally) believe--aka: blind spots.
Secondly, on a larger scale, we need regular gatherings to encourage each other to see the big picture. The truth is, you’re not alone in your entrepreneurial journey. Yes, competition can be brutal. But don’t believe the lie that you can’t trust other business leaders. There is strength in numbers.
And thirdly, stop avoiding what you need most as a leader. No, I’m not talking about an annual physical (although that might not be a bad idea). I’m referring to personal growth by way of coaching. Put aside the false stereotypes of coaching.
There are successful, seasoned entrepreneurs with the skills and heart to help you grow. (We formed a community called, Acumen to provide counsel, community, and coaching.)