My husband Randy and I owned a manufacturing and exporting business that was growing by leaps and bounds. With money came recreational toys.
It started with a couple of snowmobiles and a trailer, followed by a truck to tow them. Soon a winterized camper was perched on the truck. Acquisitions that should have brought me joy made me feel uneasy.
I knew I was growing resentful about these purchases, but I didn’t know why. We were living the lifestyle we’d dreamed about.
Within a few years, we had outgrown our garage and bought a home on an acreage. Our family was enjoying fabulous weekend camping trips in the mountains of beautiful British Columbia. We were living the entrepreneurial dream. I should have felt grateful and excited, but instead I felt lonely and miserable.
Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the U.S. Pentagon on September 11, 2001, triggering shock waves of fear and uncertainty around the globe. Real estate development in our area ceased overnight as builders waited to see how the local and national economy would recover. The bottom fell out of our lucrative export market, changing our world instantly.
Our manufacturing plant was in Chilliwack, British Columbia, but our sales and installations were in Washington state. Orders stopped. With fifty-five employees on the payroll, we were in trouble.
Randy started retooling our manufacturing plant to produce roof trusses. He hoped to slide into the local market by producing a product known to Canadian builders.
I started selling assets for cash to feed our fixed costs. To keep the cash flow going, I developed a system for managing our ads and viewings. I noticed a shift in my attitude immediately.
Instead of being miserable, I was energized. Cutting down felt good. My adrenaline kicked into high gear. Crisis mode was exhilarating. It made no sense to me.
The business collapse forced Randy and I to communicate in ways we hadn’t for a long time. We both recognized how easy it would be to let our marriage implode amid the chaos. We committed to stick together no matter what happened.
We took stock of our successes and disappointments. We questioned what we would do differently if we had the chance to do it over. We unpacked the lessons by looking at how and why we got into business in the first place.
When we cracked open the tough nuts, we were surprised by what we found inside. I felt embarrassed when we bought toys and vehicles that other people could see. My feelings had nothing to do with Randy. They were rooted deep in my past, all the way back to Weyburn Junior High, grades seven and eight.
At that time in my life, all I wanted was to be liked and fit in with my friends. But no matter where I was—in the hallways at school, on the streets walking home, when friends came to my house, during the excitement of parties, sitting in the bleachers watching the Red Wings or Comets play hockey at the Colosseum—a sinking feeling found me. A bully stalked me those two long years.
Her name was Lorraine, but kids called her Tank. She was a big, tough girl. I was the sole target of her frustration. Warnings and threats that Tank was going to beat me up found me wherever I went. She hunted me ruthlessly.
As for my crime? I lived in a majestic heritage house built in 1913, with a big yard and pristine gardens. Mom, as stunning and glamorous as Jackie Kennedy, ran a nursing home and served on city council. Dad was a sharp-dressed businessman, always sporting a jacket and tie, and wearing expensive Dack’s shoes. Tank called me “the rich bitch on the hill.”
To the outside world my life looked magical and picture perfect.
Inside our big, beautiful home, money was a problem. My parents had separated three years earlier without admitting it. Dad bought a business in the neighbouring town of Radville, thirty-two miles away, and returned home only to keep up the pretence of being married.
Several times during his absence I returned home to find an empty house without power or telephone service, cut off due to unpaid bills. Few sounds are as unsettling to the soul as the floor creaks and radiator groans from a dark, old house.
Gordon Miles was our milkman. Jim Burge was the butcher. Both men generously extended credit to Mom so we could eat, confident she would pay them back, and she did.
Without knowing it, my brain was being programmed to associate money and having nice things with shame. Seeds of “I’ll show you I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth” germinated in my subconscious mind.
Dad purchased that big house and numerous other houses, toys, businesses, and assets with money he inherited. People looked with envy from the outside. Meanwhile, our family unit crumbled. I cried a lot of tears in that lonely house.
Disputes about money severed relationships with aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. In addition to the shame I felt for “having too much,” I formed a belief that conversations about money destroy relationships. I had plenty of evidence to prove this statement true.
Randy’s money conversation was very different and had the opposite effect on him. His grade twelve English teacher humiliated him in front of his graduating class by rolling up a blank piece of paper and handing it to him on stage in place of his diploma.
The teacher later justified his actions, telling Randy’s mom, “It doesn’t matter. He’ll never amount to anything anyway.” After the initial shock of realizing what had happened, Randy was seething. He was hungry for possessions to prove he was successful. His ambition was driven by the idea, “I’ll show you!”
We were both unaware that our adult behaviour was being ruled by thoughts and beliefs we had formed as children. Attitudes about money and success have a subtle way of seeping into the mind.
Behind the worries, fears, and concerns you express about money (or success, or leadership, or other people) are deeper beliefs, associations, and interpretations you formed as a child. They are hidden in your blind spot, and they are often the root of Invisible Barriers.
When the behaviours and attitudes of those around us are inconsistent with what they teach, whether about money or anything else, our brain receives contradictory messages. It notices these subtle patterns and works them into the conversation. Because emotions speak louder than words, the brain draws more heavily on body language, observed behaviour, and tone of voice to interpret meaning and form beliefs.
An example of a contradiction I’ve heard often from business owners is entrepreneurship training led by someone who has never owned a business. Or the struggling financial advisor who is selling investment products. The disconnect makes it nearly impossible to accept the information as presented.
This type of learning is tacit, happening without a spoken word. Before we know what hit us, this tacit knowledge has shaped our perspective and a belief has formed about academics or financial investors. We form positive and negative beliefs this way.
As our experiences become more predictable, our mindset begins to harden like curing concrete. Our interpretation solidifies until we no longer conceive of it as an interpretation. It’s a conclusion about the way life is, fixed and inflexible.
Before we can influence the behaviour of our team, we must first take full responsibility for the patterns hidden in our blind spot. Whatever is hidden from our view impacts our current reality by holding us stuck in a pattern of scarcity thinking, denial, defensiveness, and unconscious action. We respond to workplace issues as one of thefirst seven leadership types rather than holding space as a Generator. If you’re not getting the results you desire in life or in business, acknowledgment is a path to begin a new appreciative inquiry. You are the catalyst of what takes place around you.
Your blind spot is not all dark and foreboding, as fear suggests. The state of unawareness also holds untapped potential, natural gifts and talents, unrealized opportunities, abundant resources, and the possibility of dreams fulfilled. What lies unexamined in your blind spot presents both opportunity and challenge. What you get depends on how you look at it.
Pivotal moments in my life have followed a fight, flight, or freeze moment. I was hell bent to do one thing (or to not do anything), but someone or something intervened. An unpredictable insight or opportunity revealed something I hadn’t noticed before, and it shifted my point of view.
Some of those transformational moments were warm and welcoming interactions; some were not. Both types changed the trajectory of my life in ways I may not have recognized or appreciated for days, months, or years afterward.
We can manage what we know. It’s what we fail to see that works against us. We have no idea what we’re blind to.
We need a compelling future to live into, one that pulls us off the sofa and out of a rut. We can’t have a better life if we believe deep down it’s hopeless.
If you are driven by concern, you have unknowingly let the stories you tell yourself about money and lack kill your dreams. When we react to what life hands us, and simply put in our time, the results we get are a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Without a doubt, it’s important to have goals and dreams, to hold a vision in your mind’s eye that fills you with passion and purpose. You need to be able to stretch your head to the clouds with your feet planted firmly on the ground. But the only way to achieve your deeply desired goals and dreams is to confront the reality you have fabricated in your mind.
Unconscious beliefs about money, success, and other people have gotten each of us where we are today. We have to tell the truth, at least to ourselves. We can’t step over our limitations, but there is a way to shine a light on them: When you notice a disconnect between your current reality and your ideal future, question it.
Associations about money and other Invisible Barriers are buried five whys deep. When you question a disconnect, drill down to get to the heart of the issue. Don’t stop at symptoms. Stretch beyond familiar options and your current knowledge by using the five whys technique to reveal root causes.
How do you know if you’ve unearthed the root cause? Use the saturation test. Ask yourself, “If we implemented a solution that addressed the final ‘why,’ would the problem be solved?”
If you have the courage to dig in and look, to question in earnest, you’ll see what drives you. Remember, awareness is the critical first step in taking back your power. Do you want a breakthrough in your life and business? The only way to experience one is to stop what you’re doing and confront the deeper truths you hold inside.
How did you react when you read my money story? Why did that happen? Did your mind conjure up its own memories? What do you make money mean? Is wealth “good” or “bad”? Why, why, why?
Parents hope their children will learn everything taught to them. In fact, children take in far more than parents realize. Early experiences imprint in the subconscious mind. Sometimes these unconscious thoughts and beliefs are beneficial, of course, but other times they do more harm than good.
Academia complicates matters. Even if you resisted school, you still have a lifetime of exposure to society’s standards and ideals about business, success, wealth, achievement—you name it. You have been immersed in it at every stage of your development. It’s like the air you breathe.
What are your tendencies? Do you strive to get more, or do you unconsciously repel money and success? Maybe your beliefs about money are generational and you think wealth could never happen for you. What reminders could you put in place to catch yourself? What could you do to counteract your habitual behaviours around money?
I give many more examples in the chapters to come of common disconnects, not just in the stories we tell ourselves about money and other subjects but in our relationships with others. Look with beginner’s mind and examine them.
Few things in life leave such visible signs in the outer world as the stories we tell ourselves, and not just about money. Business owners commonly tell themselves eleven stories to stay stuck:
Does this list remind you of the fixed mindset thinking we talked about in the last chapter? Of course! If you want to pop the cork on achievement and success, have a good look at your past and the beliefs you have formed in these areas. They lie at the root of the stories you tell yourself.
If you get the sense that you have limiting beliefs on one of these topics, complete the Breakthrough Booster exercises with that topic in mind. You may be amazed by what you uncover and wonder how you could have missed seeing it previously, like the Apung barge that I failed to see for staring right at it in Indonesia.
Perfectionism is a common limiting belief, either preventing you from starting or leading you to end up working alone.
How good are you at initiating difficult conversations? That’s another biggie.
What is your attitude about money? Do you make financial decisions from a position of scarcity or abundance?
Do people find you intimidating? If so, why?
What triggers you emotionally? How do you respond when you’re threatened or upset? What are you likely to say or do when someone pokes the bear?
Have a look. I promise you—there is a predictable pattern. We all need to know these things about ourselves.
For many, “newness” itself is a reactionary trigger. Trying anything new is a great way to learn to read your body’s response to emotional triggers. Don’t immediately discard ideas and suggestions. Learn to sit with them and reflect objectively without being reactionary. There’s no telling where an open mind will lead you. Perhaps you form an unexpected alliance or partnership with a supplier, or maybe even a competitor.
If possible, interview people close to you. Ask them to identify your idiosyncrasies and bad habits. Then sit back and listen to what they tell you with an open mind.
If you want to stop the bleeding, stop doing what you’ve always done. Confront the unavoidable truth and examine what’s not working, starting with yourself. This is not a quick fix; this is the permanent way out.
Most small business owners have the illusion of control, but tacit forces have been driving our decisions and actions for years. For some it is business failure, illness, or loss that finally shatters the illusion of control. For others, it may be reading this book. No matter the circumstance, admitting a limitation is a pivotal moment in our development as leaders and in the growth of our businesses.
Acknowledging that we can improve our approach creates an opportunity to innovate and consciously create our way forward.
Anurag Gupta says it simply: “We’re either creating or consuming.”
Starting a business is a creative endeavour. At start-up, founders and their teams experience a rush of adrenalin. Fight or flight, the short-term response to risk, can be enlivening and accelerate growth. Results flow when people are working together to create something new. The team is willing to give extra effort to get the new venture off the ground.
As the business grows and more people are added to the team, maintaining a balanced formula becomes more complex. Three factors create stress for the owner as he or she drives the business forward.
I call them the Three Big Buckets:
Each bucket represents the absence of something that the business owner perceives as necessary for survival. Take another look at the eleven stories keeping people stuck. Each one fits into bucket.
Business owners are routinely exposed to stress, either because we are uncertain of root causes (Bucket 1); because we lack information, data, skills, or knowledge (Bucket 2); or because we cannot control the situation (Bucket 3). The same fight or flight responses that helped get the business off the ground, triggered chronically without resolution, become harmful. The slow decline of consuming creeps in.
Concerns about cash flow, anxiety about potential market opportunities, or frustration in dealing with people are stressors—Big Bucket issues that have at their root creative and emotional tension. Notable stressors in the lives of working adults are emotional. We aren’t successful in addressing them because we’ve never been taught how to
effectively channel emotion in the workplace (until now!).
Emotion spreads dangerously through the workplace with a trickle down effect, gradually impacting relationships with staff, customers, suppliers, and lenders. Like a three-tiered fountain, emotion flows through levels of response in the owner before multiplying through direct reports, managers, and supervisors across the business:
1. Tier 1: Unconscious physical responses. Physical responses happen automatically when we’re under threat. A rush of adrenalin is triggered and courses through us in a split second. You’ll recognize the fight or flight response if you’ve ever had your biggest customer give an order to your competition that you were counting on to make payroll.
2. Tier 2: Nonverbal “tells.” Regardless of what we intend to present to others, body language, mannerisms, tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and even the pauses between words communicate tacitly. Nonverbal communication speaks louder than words. Second-tier emotions have serious consequences on workplace culture, which is a byproduct of what’s not being said. The spilling of tier two emotions triggers anxiety in others and creates a stressful work environment. We should never say “I’m fine” when we’re not.
3. Tier 3: How we feel. Our anger, joy, or suspicion is a subjective reaction to events. Our point of view is uniquely our own. Knowing which of the Three Big Buckets our stressor fits into is the first step to separating ourselves from the trigger. With self-awareness, we can express emotions more effectively, assert our needs more clearly, and maintain better integrity of boundaries within the business. (I discuss this at length and provide tools in Chapter 8, Process Prevents Politics.) When we are clear and open in our communication, without a hidden agenda running in the background, our message stands the best chance of being heard and accurately interpreted as it passes through business channels.
Confronting our flaws and imperfections exposes our vulnerabilities. Recognizing uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control can make us feel deeply uncomfortable. I get it. We all have something to work through as entrepreneurs. Being a business owner is the most rigorous form of personal development you’ll ever experience. If the money starts flowing before you start working on your leadership (personal, team, and systems), the ramifications will circle back to bite you in the butt. Our character flaws and communication deficiencies return to us in staff behaviour problems, team performance issues, and a weak bottom line.
Supporting others to achieve their goals and dreams feels incredible, and in the coming pages I show you how to do that. But first, you must be able to do it for yourself. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
If you’re not getting the results you want, change your own behaviour and communication first. Then move on and practice applying the Possibility Process in your organization. Working on your own life is challenging because it’s hard to see what’s hiding in plain sight. Working with others is challenging because now everyone’s blind spots are in the mix!
Mastering the Possibility Process takes time and practice. But at the end of the day, the competencies you develop are your own. If you are feeling stuck or unfulfilled in your business, this is the perfect time to apply the Possibility Process to build your personal development muscle.
Don’t make yourself wrong for being human. Everyone has an Achilles heel. Own it with pride. You can overcome anything when you’re clear on what you’re dealing with.
Resist the urge at this stage to focus on people, skills, and personalities. It’s a trap. That’s how you end up with your neighbour’s wife as your bookkeeper (quick fix) instead of effective strategies to manage your anxiety when making financial decisions (long-term
Once you discover the main barriers impeding you, put a system or structure in place to counteract them. That’s what this book is all about. For example, “Conversations about money destroy relationships,” as a belief, had me avoid conflict. I now use Conscious Communication, presented in Part II, as a structure to initiate difficult conversations.
But before we get to that, I have two more sources you can tap for clarity and insight—wizards and canaries—which I cover in the next chapter. As well, I reveal the crux of personal leadership and the place to stand as you move into the team and systems leadership of Parts II and III.
Each time you answer one of these questions ask yourself, “Why do I feel that way?” Keep digging until you have answered five whys deep.
Remember: If you are unhappy with your current situation, your unconscious beliefs are no longer serving you. It’s time for an upgrade!