I don’t know about you, but when I started my business over 16 years ago, no one sat me down and made me examine all my delicious delusions about how my solo venture would unfold on its way to becoming a sustainable business. Of course, with too much of the cold water of reality, perhaps none of us would launch our dreams down the river of possibilities. Still, we take a deep breath and dive in.
Over time — through my own experience and working with dozens of socially responsible business owners and conscious leaders — I’ve collected some seemingly reasonable but ultimately unhelpful beliefs. These myths are passed around often, but they can lead us astray, waste our time, and even put our fledgling companies in jeopardy. Here are a few to avoid as you build your mission-driven company:
1. I can grow and develop my professional leadership skills without doing the concurrent personal work.
Being a conscious leader does not mean you have to go through one or more rounds of psychotherapy or coaching — but most of us have. When “the past becomes present” in terms of old, unresolved patterns of not being seen and heard or repeatedly displaying frustration, we have to deal with it — whether it shows up in the business or outside the business. We won’t reach our full potential unless and until we do.
2. The absence of conflict in our company means things are going really well.
I once had a client organization hire me because their team heard me use the term “creative conflict.” They said: “We have no idea how that works. We just rely on being ‘nice’ all the time.”
Toxic conflict, nasty politics, and entrenched avoidance are no good, but corporate rainbows and unicorns won’t get the job done either. Embracing the resources, skills, and permission to work through normal business conflicts deepens trust and increases vibrant outcomes.
3. Having a spouse, partner, or family member involved should be easy.
I will freely admit that I’ve seen a few cases in which spouses or family members work together in an unquestionably harmonious way. I’ve also worked with a significant number of businesses to help relatives balance the dual relationships of work and family simultaneously, especially around money. My wife and I have always been quite clear — why wreck a perfectly good marriage by working in each other’s business?
You may be able to have a rich and rewarding experience working with kinfolk without major disruptions, however you would be in the minority. And you shouldn’t feel badly if you encounter bumps along the road when untangling this complex situation of mingling personal and professional relationships.
4. I should give a struggling employee every benefit of the doubt, because we want to be known as a “caring workplace.”
Part of conscious leadership is balancing “backbone and heart.” When the fit is a struggle with someone in our organization, the compassionate next step is to ascertain whether or not it’s truly a match (for you and for your employee) and if not, be clean, clear, and quick about moving on.
5. I don’t have any biases around diversity and inclusion.
Of course, the problem with biases is that most of the time they are outside of our conscious awareness. It’s not about if we have biases (because we all do!), but whether or not we’re open to challenging them. A humble, continuous learning approach means accepting our blind spots, illuminating them, and addressing them head-on.
6. Smart people succeed, and they have the credentials, endorsements, and validation to prove it.
No one cares that I have a master’s degree in psychology or that I’m a certified coach. What matters is how I show up, how I engage, and how I connect with potential clients’ challenges and opportunities. Some folks with Ph.D.s are difficult to relate to, and some “worker bees” are the best people on Earth and rise quickly up the ranks, or vice-versa. Our in-the-moment emotional intelligence will always supersede our intellect.
7. Once my potential customers or clients truly understand what we offer, sales won’t be a problem.
Like most companies in this space, you lead with your values, right? Why wouldn’t customers support your multiple-bottom-line endeavors and all the good that you do? Well, for one thing, you may be entering a crowded marketplace. The timeline for developing a customer base may take longer than you thought. Or buyer perceptions of price versus value may be different than you anticipated. There’s no substitute for planning, patience, and perseverance. A good offering is not always enough.
8. A good strategic plan will drive the business forward and provide clarity to all stakeholders.
It depends. If you are clear about your values, your mission, and your vision — and you use them to directly inform your strategic plan — then it can work beautifully. However, if your plan is out of alignment with your culture and/or the negative behaviors of key team members sabotage the plan, then you might be left with an expensive document and no traction.
9. If I hire the right people, I won’t have to spend money on professional development.
Many new business owners prioritize things like IT and marketing, assuming they won’t have to spend much on professional development if they make good hiring choices. Most owners would be remiss if they didn’t have a technology or marketing plan, however it is uncommon to see them put an equal amount of time, energy, and resources into developing targeted skills for their key staff. Then, gaps emerge as the company’s growth starts to outpace its personnel in certain areas — and it’s catch-up time, with associated unexpected impacts.
10. I can accurately predict in advance how much capital and financing I’ll need.
Really? Then please show me where you got that crystal ball, and we’ll both be rich. Markets, sales, margins, expenses, and a little thing called luck can be examined in terms of forecasts, but they cannot be predicted with total accuracy. Therefore flexibility, creativity, and adaptability are also required (or a handful of credit cards with high limits, as I learned the hard way!).
Bust your own myths
What myths have you already busted? Which ones are you still hanging on to? And which stories did you tell yourself that initially sounded preposterous but have proven their weight in gold over time?
By looking at our belief systems, we can sort out the elements that have utility, the ones that are good but aspirational, and the ones that belong on the compost pile. After all, every individual and organization — successful or not — has its own mythology.
As principal of Business Culture Consultantsin Burlington, VT, Flip Brown serves as a catalyst to help good people in great organizations experience better results and deeper satisfaction.