THE SILVER BULLET

by Matt Thomas

Recently, I participated in a forum with other business owners offering “wisdom from the trenches” to a group of aspiring entrepreneurs. One of the questions posed to the panel was something to the effect of, “what should business leaders focus their attention on?” A string of cliches followed–“Protect your Margins,” “Prioritize the Customer Experience,” or one that almost made me spit out my water, “Listen to the Market…she speaks!” Cue the eye roll.

Just a few weekends ago on a father/son camping trip with a group of buddies, most of whom are running businesses, a similar topic came up. One of the guys in the group lamented that he can’t figure out where to focus his energy on the business. He had a long list of issues that needed to be addressed or overhauled, projects that needed to be completed or started, and people challenges coming out of his ears. Another had similar issues, from cash flow to HR, and was frustrated that a new platform they had implemented wasn’t producing the traction he had hoped.

My response to these guys and my answer to the question at the forum were largely the same. Stop focusing your time and energy on the P&L, HR, sales, marketing, or some new strat/ops platform in hopes that it will be the silver bullet that makes all of your problems go away. The number one thing you should focus your time and energy on is YOU. Specifically, your mental, physical, and emotional well being.

The number one thing you should focus your time and energy on is YOU. Specifically, your mental, physical, and emotional well being.

Do you have high turnover? People probably don’t enjoy working for you and more often than not it’s because your leadership style has been shaped by unresolved [fill in the blank] from your childhood. Cash flow issues? You likely don’t have the business acumen you need yet, probably know it, and don’t want to admit it or ask for help because you have a fragile ego. Do some of your best ideas rarely get legs? You are probably a starter not a finisher, your people are exhausted, and really you are just keeping yourself busy and enjoy creating chaos. Does it seem like all you do is work? You may just have something to prove, if you’re honest things aren’t great on the homefront, or both. Has your business plateaued? More often than not you’ve taken it as far as it can go and need to replace yourself but can’t because you have an inflated view of your own importance. I could keep going.

Do you want to know the common thread we find in healthy organizations with steady growth, strong culture, and stellar reputations? The answer is unequivocally healthy leadership.

Do you want to know the common thread we find in healthy organizations with steady growth, strong culture, and stellar reputations? The answer is unequivocally healthy leadership. Men and women comfortable in their own skin and leading from a place of abundance. Are you looking for a silver bullet? That’s it. You, healthy. The best chance your business has at meaningful success is you doing whatever it takes to operate on all cylinders.

I have lost track of the number of wounded, worn-down men and women I know leading organizations. God knows I have been one of them. Wouldn’t you rather decide when and where to jump off the cliff? Instead of continuing to do the same thing that doesn’t work until you find yourself free falling into the unknown, beat to hell, gripped by fear, with a body count behind you too high to count? The collateral damage unhealthy leaders leave in their wake has generational impact. Yet most will keep on keeping on hoping that next book, podcast, new hire, fiscal year, whatever, will bring the change they crave.

The collateral damage unhealthy leaders leave in their wake has generational impact. Yet most will keep on keeping on hoping that next book, podcast, new hire, fiscal year, whatever, will bring the change they crave.

For those run ragged, here are three jumping-off points that can get you started on the road to health:

Go to therapy.

From a reluctant first time participant to now having invested tens of thousands of dollars in my own counseling and the counseling of those whom I love over the past decade, I can tell you with confidence that a good therapist is worth every penny. Also, it’s better to choose to go than find yourself with no other options. Cut the ego-stroking and jump straight into your family of origin. It’ll be painful but worth it. Simply, if you’re leading people you should be in therapy. Don’t let your unexamined baggage get in the way of you leading your people well.

Be still.

15 minutes a day at a minimum. Meditate, pray, practice “mindfulness,” whatever, just get alone and get quiet, preferably in the morning. Don’t journal, don’t listen to music, don’t run through your to-do list, just sit down and be still. What do you hear? See what happens.

Practice rigorous honesty.

Commit to telling yourself the truth, always and without exception. We deceive others because we’ve first deceived ourselves. Some of us have unfortunately mastered this. You will be amazed at how much freer and lighter you feel at the end of a day when you’ve been able to be honest with yourself and others about every single thing. Most leaders are bull shitters, that’s how they convinced someone somewhere to give them so much responsibility. Tell yourself the truth, practice rigorous honesty, the rest will come.

There is a lot more you could step into and experience on the road to health. This is just a starting point. If you’re looking for the silver bullet that will make your business better. There it is. Go get ‘em.