It’s a bit odd and ironic that the first question asked when there’s a big, giant problem in a business environment is usually, “Whose fault is this?” It is odd and ironic because certainly, the first question should be, “How quickly can we fix this?”
In working with many, many companies we have found that one of the key factors in businesses failing to achieve their growth potential is NOT that those businesses are making too many mistakes. In fact, we know that, generally speaking, the more mistakes a business is making, the healthier growth potential they have. That is true because more mistakes usually indicate that there is more innovation and new ideas being implemented. Sadly, however, far too many businesses are risk averse and instead hope to become Olympic-level swimmers without ever letting go of the side of the pool.
No, instead, of big, giant business problems leading to big giant business solutions, they tend to lead to big, giant fingers. Those finders get pointed somewhere and that “somewhere” is almost always somewhere else. Rarely do we see a project going wonky and the person responsible for it all standing up and saying, “That was mine. I did that.” But really, this isn’t too terribly surprising given that the very language that we use in our culture is designed to completely remove us from the responsibility of our actions.
We have arrived at this point in our humanness where our methodologies don’t only NOT solve the problems we are facing but they actually make the problems even more difficult to solve. It’s like we are forever trying to find a tiny leak in a bicycle tire but the more we search for it, the more elusive the leak gets. Sure, we can hear the air escaping and we can search and search and search for it but somehow we still never manage to find it.
Yet, by putting the tire in a tub of water, the little air bubbles rising to the surface allows the problem to instantly presents itself. At The BigTime Group we have developed our own tub test that quickly and efficiently spots and resolves the most elusive problem areas that most businesses face. How do we do it? Well, in order for the answer to that question to make any sense, I’m going to have to first wind the clock back a bit.
At a very early age in life, we become presented with two polar opposite states of being. They are that of being appreciated or that of being in trouble. As kids, when we do the right things such as get good grades, clean our room, and don’t fight with our siblings, we are appreciated. We do the wrong thing such as get an F on the math test, throw a banana at our little sister’s head or break a table lamp during an ultimate light saber duel, we find ourselves in the state of being in trouble.
From a parent’s perspective, this isn’t such a big deal. We know that we love our children. Sure, we may gnash our teeth in frustration about their behavior but, at the end of the day, it would still be impossible for us to separate them from our hearts. From a child’s perspective however, the state of being in trouble, feels like a separation from parental love. Children’s limited experience in the world can give them some uncertainty as to whether or not love will ever be reestablished once they have committed a transgression. It can seem as if that love is gone forever.
Kids go into a panic, seeking to, as soon as possible, find a solution that will restore their life to a harmonious state of love and acceptance once again. Due to this fact, their taking responsibility for their mistakes would not serve that solution at all. It would seem to only draw them further away from the love they are seeking to restore. Instead, they work to shift the responsibility for their love-separating crime onto someone or something else. This “quickest-way-out” solution develops into a pattern of behavior that develops into a methodology that becomes a deeply entrenched way of responding that we carry into our adulthood. We are still driven by the same love-separating fear from our childhood but we are now completely unaware that it continues to steer our ship.
This fear is so endemic in our culture that, as a society, we have created an acceptable way of living that we all use to navigate around this fear. Peering behind the curtain of it all, you can see just how all encompassing the driving force of this feeling-avoidance truly is.
Consider This (Part One): You’re at a clothing store in the dressing room and you’re trying on a pair of pants. You pull them up, move to button them around your waist but as you try to do so, you find that the button and the buttonhole cannot reach each other. The sales person knocks on the door and says “how are those pants?” What is your reaction? What is your answer?
“These pants are too small.”
Consider that statement for a moment. It seems to make perfect sense in the moment. If the pants were larger, they would easily fit your waist but they don’t. The pants are too small.
Without realizing it, emotionally you’ve flashed back to the moment of getting the F on the math test, throwing the banana at your sister’s head and breaking the lamp after the light saber duel. You feel horrible. Rejected. It’s a separation from love. How do you get out of that feeling? Do you admit to fault? No way! You blame your teacher, your sister and your friend in a Darth Vader mask. Before you know it, you and your best friend are rolling over on each other like two thugs in a police interrogation room. So naturally it’s the pants that are at fault here. They are the pants too small. Is that true? Of course it’s not. Intrinsically, the pants are perfect just as they are. What’s the problem? You’re too big!
Consider This (Part Two): You’re on your way to work. As you’re driving, suddenly the car sputters and rolls to a stop. You look at the gas gauge and the needle is firmly on E. You call your boss, and say, “Sorry, I’m going to be late. My car ran out of gas.” It makes perfect sense, right? The car did run out of gas. What else can you say? Well, actually a lot. Telling your boss that your car ran out of gas is, in effect, saying that the night before, the car started itself up, open the garage, and took itself out for a joy ride. Hours later it returned home with a near empty tank which you only discovered in this very moment on your drive to work. So, did the car really run out of gas? Of course it didn’t. You ran the car out of gas.
The truth is that you simply didn’t take the time to make sure that the car had enough gas in it for you to get to work. Maybe you don’t put so much value on getting to work on time. A little harsh? Perhaps, but consider this; if you were driving somewhere to pick up a check for $10,000 and the only way you could get it was to be there on time, you would have certainly made damn sure that your car had enough gas in it to get there.
The F on the math test, the banana thrown at your sister’s head, the light saber duel with the broken lamp, the too-small pants, and the empty gas tank are all endemic of the very same thing. They stem from a fear that we will be summarily rejected if we are caught acting within the realm of our poorest judgment.
So then, what is the antidote to this deeply wounded line of thinking? Do we get down on our knees and beg for forgiveness every time we make a mistake? No. That, actually would only make the problem worse.
And by the way, if the term “self-love” and all this love stuff is a little bit too lalala for you, feel free to refer to it as self-esteem, self-appreciation, or just the colloquial “going easy on yourself.” They all work interchangeably.
I have certainly found in all my travels and all my talks with all the business owners we have helped, going easy on oneself (especially during times of great stress or great failures) is directly proportional to greater success in business. Why is that true? Simple.
Let’s say that you give your project manager a task of putting together a spreadsheet that is supposed to detail all of the areas of involvement with a client. It has to show what bids are out, which projects are up next, what’s complete, what’s incomplete, and a whole host of other things. He finished the spreadsheet and reports to you that it’s ready for your approval. Terrific, you say, and then backburner your review of it.
A week later and an hour before your call with the client, you bring up the spreadsheet so you can speak intelligently about the status of his account. However, what you find, instead of all the information you wanted, is some vital information that’s missing and other information that you cannot make tails or tails of. Your project manager is unreachable and the minutes are ticking by before your call with the client. Your frustration turns into stress while visions of barbecuing your project manager on a spit with an apple in his mouth fill your head.
Certainly, if he had done his job properly you would not be in this mess. After all, how hard can it be to make a damn spreadsheet? Clearly you have hired the wrong guy and you are sure that you must dump him before he brings down your entire organization. Boom. You are right back at throwing a banana at your sister’s head, the car running out of gas and your pants being too small.
Would it have been great if the project manager had created the spreadsheet like you wanted it to be? Sure, but perhaps it would have been even greater if you had done a better job of explaining exactly what you wanted to him. The further truth is that you back-burnered your review of the spreadsheet until the time became too critical to do so.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you hire a group of lackeys and untalented people into your organization and then blame yourself when they do crappy work. I’m not even suggesting that you don’t reprimand someone when they do a bad job. What I am suggesting is that, when things get derailed, you choose to also assess the part you played in creating a situation that has made you dissatisfied. I have seen a myriad of very talented people get fired because a project went bad but those leading them did not take full the responsibility for their lack of clarity in their instructions.
You do have to understand that, when it comes to your employees, like it or not, your business (and most all businesses) run on the parental model. You are the dad or the mom and they are the kid. This has nothing to do with them not being intelligent or not acting like adults, it is simple human biology. The parental model of authority is perhaps the most deeply rooted blueprint of our social structure. Accepting that truth can relieve you from a lot of stress and unrealistic expectations from those in your organization. Operating effectively within this model it is much more productive than trying to fight with it.
Further, is also something that you, as a business owner, are subject to as well. Don’t kid yourself and say it isn’t.
Let’s go back to this impending meeting that you are to have with your client, you know, the one that was corrupted by the unusable spreadsheet. The stress of the moment has put you into that same rejection fear that your employees feel. Performing poorly in front of your client starts to conjure up images of getting fired, reprimanded, losing the client or losing your income. This fear-based thinking triggers your immediate desire to remove yourself from the responsibility of the situation you are in and blame it on someone else. Once again, the car didn’t run out of gas, the pants aren’t too tight, and your project manager isn’t responsible for your lack of clarity or waiting till the last moment to review the spreadsheet.
The tub test for any business in finding that little leak in the bicycle tire is for the leader of that organization to ask himself or herself the most difficult question of all. “How did I create this situation and what can I learn from it so as to make sure that I don’t do it again?” Does that mean firing somebody or hiring someone else? Perhaps, but before you take those drastic measures examine closely your part in it all.
The truth is that we all wish we could hire that perfect employee who would do exactly as we asked at all times, turn in perfect work and give us everything we wanted without our having to explain what that is. In the same way, we wish that we could find that perfect mate who would give us the love and affection we desire in exactly the way that we desire it…and also do that for us all the time. Still further, we wish that we had the perfect parents who loved us in the exact way that, as little kids, we wanted to be loved. Unfortunately, none of those things are possible. Our needs are so specific and also so varied that even if we tried to write them all out they would make as little sense to us as they do to anyone else.
We are all saddled with the responsibility of creating our lives in the way that we want them to be, not through being understood and appreciated, but through the difficulty of personal reassessment and, most of all, through the love and appreciation that we are willing to give to ourselves. It continues to baffle me and I find it so strange how the one loving relationship that we find the most difficult to be consistently successful with is the one we have with ourselves.
Yet, when we do treat ourselves kindly and with generous forgiveness, we are immediately able to transmit that same sentiment to those around us. In doing so, that same appreciation becomes infectious. It allows the people in your organization to live in their best selves. It is not the reprimanding of an employees poor work (or the poor work of our own) where we get greater productivity. It is the taking of responsibility for our own shortcomings that frees us from the fear or being rejected, scolded and unloved. It leads the way to the freedom of living in our best selves.
The greats in the world from Gandhi to Dr. King to Richard Branson and Elon Musk have all practiced this way of being. Doing so allowed them in part to bring their great vision to reality.
Beginning a campaign of self-responsibility is the pathway to giving your people the courage and permission to express their best selves fully. Self-kindness aligned with self-responsibility is the ultimate tub test for the leaky bicycle tires of your business. They free you from the search for the problem, allowing you to easily follow the little bubbles at the water’s surface right down to where the leak exists. The problem is quickly discovered and easily repaired.
Photo: Getty Images