We may shake a finger at someone and say, “I know who I am. You don’t know me like I know me.” But mindless loyalty to a dumb idea or hidden emotion such as bitterness, envy and fear of failure can muddle a manager’s or business owner’s effort to fine-tune identity and purpose at a given point in life.
Uncovering the real you can take minutes or weeks and is worth your time and the possible blow to your pride. The following examples are remarkable but ordinary at their core.
In a Phoenix restaurant, Michele told me her business idea. “Everybody tells me it’s so good,” she said.
I listened for a few minutes and began my questions: “Could you tell me again what you’re wanting to do?” “Why do you want to do that?” “Where did you get this idea?”
Her answers didn’t make sense and — by agreement — I interrupted to say so.
Michele’s problem surfaced immediately. She’d had a stillborn child 41 years earlier and thought she was over the emotional wreckage it caused. But now she was weeping over the stunning details.
I said, “Now, tell me why you want to start this business everyone says is such a great idea.”
She explained the concept, and when I asked her to clarify, she gave the same answer.
“That concept is not what you want to do,” I said.
“No. This is what you said ….”
I reflected her words back to her and tied a few of her thoughts together. Then the light in her head turned on — 41 years hadn’t buried the pain of a child she and her husband lost after their first year of marriage. They hadn’t even buried the girl. She was taken away by a relative, turned to dust and scattered outdoors before Michele had the opportunity to hold the baby she had toted in her belly for months.
Within minutes, Michele felt the relief and clarity that came with uncorking suppressed emotion.
Now, we were able to zoom in on the real motive behind her business concept, as well as what the concept should be; that is, she wanted to help people celebrate loss in a particular way, and it suddenly mattered to her entire marketing strategy that her own loss was a powerful story that her future prospects would want to hear. Until now, she was not quite the healed woman she thought she was after all.
Mindless loyalty to a dumb idea is just as sneaky a barrier as hidden emotion. A dumb idea could be “nothing beats free,” “my way or the highway” or “since I enjoy this hobby, I should turn it into a business.”
Even optimism can get in the way. The department head of an automotive manufacturer called me to help him think through his business goals. He wanted to generate $25 million over five years. Several long phone calls proved he had a mistaken belief that optimism could replace business logic.
I said his plan wouldn’t work, and I used his own words to prove it. He asked, “Are you being negative, or do you really believe that?”
“I’m telling you what you told me.”
“I guess I’m an optimist.”
“Optimism isn’t a plan. You don’t have a plan.”
Later, I read a blog he posted about the “miracles” his plan was producing. In fact, he was lost in stubbornness, hopelessly short of a revenue goal that could be reached only by changing direction. And he wasn’t about to admit a dumb idea as long as executive management was oblivious to the real story.
Michele was wide open to the truth about herself, while the department head was interested in defending his idea.
Decide to be wide open to the facts. In Part 3 of this series, I’ll give some tips on how you and a friend can ask yourselves questions to see yourselves more clearly.
Max Russell is owner of Max and Max Communications and formerly taught Spanish in Southern Hancock schools. You can contact him via his website, maxtrussell.com.