All Entrepreneurs are Liars, and It’s Stifling Your Company
Five ways that entrepreneurs are lying to themselves and to you
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 to 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 few assignments. I’d speak to a company’s owner about a specific issue and create a scope of work to understand the challenge the business was facing. In simplified terms, I would perform an assessment by talking to people inside and outside the company, reporting those results and stating steps to correct the problem.
For some reason, a consultant’s report allows the entrepreneur to get angry at a piece of paper, rather than the 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 nothing was implemented, and nothing changed.
Lying to Yourself
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, come alongside the CEO and become a change management initiator.
This had to be better, right? Nope, the results were even worse, so what was the problem?
The person at the top. They created new, improved roadblocks and special circumstances. 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 included) that you’re probably lying to yourself about right now. My CEO clients weren’t lying to me. In fact, they were forthright about the challenges and shortcomings of the business. But the fact that they lied to themselves was hurting the 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 positive they can sell their way out of every problem and either don’t want to know the extent of the challenge, or know it, and minimize it to make the team feel secure
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, which can take at least three months to acquire.
You are lying to yourself when generalize something that isn’t going well. For example, simply stating that “Sales are trending down.”
At one company, a leader of the account management group was responsible for $2 million 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” increases the likelihood that you’ll apply the wrong solution or apply no solution at all. It’s like saying the problem with the Titanic was that the ship was sinking, when the problem was the gaping hole.
Fix the hole and the ship stops sinking. In the example above, the person was the problem so it’s time to make change. However, in this case, he was then promoted to the executive team.
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, your culture will improve overnight
Don’t lie to yourself ̶ without money, and more specifically without 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.
Your team selection, goals, strategy, investment and risk profile should all align. Too many CEOs give their teams — and themselves — whiplash when long-term and short-term financial goals are not clear.
Every ten-year-old wants to be a cool high-schooler. But are they excited about an awkward puberty and growing pains? No.
It’s the same with an organization: growth means change and change means pain. If you want to grow, be honest with yourself (and your team) and embrace the tough choices and turmoil that come with that growth. The only way to navigate these choppy waters is with a clear goal.
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 and ignore the future or you can start looking into options and make a plan.
Have you ever met a “serial entrepreneur” with a funny history? She/he 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 get 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 want to see the truth in themselves and in their business.
With these three C’s, you can become a better leader, grow your company and impact the lives of your employees, vendors, and community.
First, we all need feedback from other business owners. And, frankly, other business owners need your perspective and counsel. Talking to others can help entrepreneurs see past the lies and blind spots.
Second, on a larger scale, entrepreneurs 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 third, stop avoiding what you need most as a leader ̶ personal growth by way of coaching. Coaches are often successful, seasoned entrepreneurs with the skills and heart to help you grow, use them.
Dan Cooper is the co-author of "Sharpen: A Guidebook for Business Ownership and Adventures in Leadership." He founded a video-based online training company and was its CEO until selling in 2012. Today, he is the president and partner of Acumen, an engaging community experience built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies.