In my last post, I told the story of my initial struggles at being an entrepreneur and business owner. I said that I believe I know what is missing in most motivational, inspirational and training material. Before I get to that though, I want to share more of my journey (OK, if you can’t wait, the answer is near the bottom of the post).
To recap, I was working in an international business consulting firm, trying to build a side business and basically being unhappy even though I was earning decent money. I was young, mid-twenties and dissatisfied. Eventually, my attitude got me fired from the firm, so I had to figure out what I was going to do next. This was another event that propelled me into studying psychology, business and leadership. I was called into the partner’s office one day, told I was toxic to the rest of the staff and that I was being placed on “job search” effective immediately. “Job search” was a nice way of saying your fired, but we’ll give you four weeks with pay to find another job (4 weeks of pay is good).
This was an extremely difficult time for me, both mentally and emotionally. I did some extensive self-examination and rumination over my termination, but that is a story for another time.
Once I recovered, I pursued a doctorate in clinical psychology. During this time, I kept involved in my side business. I learned a ton about how a strong business should be run. I can’t recall how many business, motivational and inspirational books I read during that time, but I know it was in the hundreds. That business “failure” that I “never made a dime from,” taught me the basics I needed and prepared me for the next phase of my entrepreneurship journey.
By the time I graduated with a doctorate in psychology, I knew I would be opening my own psychology practice and have a “real” business (whatever “real business” means).
Fortunately, I had a mentor who helped me get going and I was off to the races. I started in an old church board room with shag carpet and a wallpaper forest scene on one wall. There was an electric fireplace on that wall that provided no heat. Some of you may remember those old fireplaces that had something like a light bulb inside a rotating drum with orange saran wrap covering it. And, to top of the ambience, the place smelled musty. After several weeks there, I was able to rent a small office with three rooms and a waiting room. My first sessions in this new space was on folding chairs my mom had given me, no paint on the walls and no desk or telephone. Also by this time, I was married and my wife was about to have our first child.
Yet, I was excited. The practice grew fairly quickly and it wasn’t long before I needed to bring on my first therapist. Then I was a boss! I had people working for me and I was the one leading them. I hired some help to do the paperwork and we kept growing. We went from that tiny office to 3 then 4 different offices and over 20 therapists. Along the way, there were ups and downs, but we were doing pretty well. I had a business that was successful.
Only there was one problem. Simmering underneath was a lot of frustration and discontentment. The people working for me weren’t doing what I wanted them to! Don’t get me wrong, they were seeing their clients, doing good therapy with them and providing great service to the community. Yet, I couldn’t get them to buy in to the business side of things. They weren’t interested in marketing, either themselves or the practice. Nor were they that concerned if there were billing issues. The office would straighten that out.
I tried to figure out what was going on? They said they liked working in the practice, enjoyed the freedom and flexibility, were happy with what they were earning (although more would be nice), etc. etc. Why couldn’t I motivate them or inspire them to care about the business side of things?
In the meantime, I had opened a different business “on the side.” The same pattern was occurring here. Initial success and excitement, followed by the normal ups and downs and then a stagnation. I was at a loss. These things were supposed to keep growing and well, just work.
Couldn’t these people see all the things I was doing for them? Didn’t they realize I was working 18 hour days to take care of the business? Why wouldn’t they just come in, do their job fully, not complain, get their paycheck, be happy and grow the business? Why couldn’t they see how it would benefit them as well as me? Why couldn’t they see that I was the one who was taking all the risks?
Here’s why: I wasn’t leading. Looking back, I would say I wasn’t even managing. I was trying to let the systems and expectations lead and manage my teams.
In my psychology practice, I pretty much let the therapists do whatever they felt was best for their clients. In the other business it was similar. Although there was more structure in place (it was a franchise with lots of pre-existing structure from the corporate office), the managers of our stores felt they had better ideas and I often would avoid the confrontation needed in order to keep them to the standards set by corporate. Everyone, in both businesses was just meandering through, responding to crises when necessary and going back to business as usual. As long as they fulfilled the minimum requirements, they got paid.
I had the knowledge in my head. I knew the things I was supposed to do and the difference between leading and managing. AND I knew that I wasn’t doing them. Yet, I couldn’t break out of the pattern. What was going on?
It came down to this: All the knowledge in the world could not make up for the fact that I was not emotionally prepared to lead. One might think that a fully trained and experienced psychologist would have the skills to work through all their “issues,” right? Perhaps. However, leadership brought to the forefront many “issues” that I thought I had dealt with before. And it brought them out stronger than ever before.
At long last, that brings me to the missing element in much of the leadership material both now and in the past. It is simply this:
Very little leadership material helps the leader deal with the internal conflicts that arise in the normal course of leading.
I founded The Human Leader to change that.