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That Hostage Feeling

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Businessman in dark suit and red tie as hostage hands tied by thick hemp ropeOver and over again, I talk to business owners who feel trapped inside their own businesses. Recently, one of them described it as feeling like he was “held hostage” by his business. Why would he say that?

In this case, he felt trapped putting out fires all the time caused by staffing issues. People would just not show up – which meant he had to scramble. Every day was another fire he had to put out, and yet he was under contract to finish a job with a specific deadline under certain conditions, and so he had to just roll with it. But he hated every minute of it.

Another business owner got trapped in a different way in his business. He grew his business from a staff of five to a staff of 28, but his profitability was slipping. He was working harder for less money. What to do? And yet now, the momentum was growth – he didn’t exactly want to stop that, but he knew he had to do something, so he didn’t keep working more hours for diminishing returns.

Still yet another business owner wanted to sell his business. He had a number in his head of what he wanted, and potential buyers had very different numbers. If he sold at what people were willing to buy, he would essentially lose his retirement. So, he kept working in the business, hoping to find a way to make it sustainable. But the value kept coming back too small. He began to ask himself if he would die in the shop.

A fourth business owner found himself battling five major business decisions simultaneously – that all were interrelated, and all critical to the way his business ran. Whenever he looked at those decisions, he couldn’t figure out where to start, or how to untangle the situation – things were too tightly connected. He felt stuck, because without making decisions, things would start to get worse, and yet just fixing one doable part wasn’t going to solve things either. He, too, felt like he was held hostage by his own business.

What to do?

Each of these challenges is unique, and each of these is really the same as the others. They are the same in three major ways:

  • First, in each case, the business has taken on a life of its own beyond the leader’s control. Factors outside the leader’s sphere of influence, as well as internal factors, worked together to make things feel impossible. They all found themselves chasing and reacting to the immediate, rather than to the strategic. Or they tried the strategic, but the urgent hijacked the strategy. And so, they suffered personally – from stress, from exhaustion, from frustration, from long hours – you get the point.
  • Second, they found themselves dealing with symptoms rather than the core issues at hand. They may have been able to see the core issues, but they couldn’t dig into those while everything else was going on. In some cases, the symptoms were so significant that they couldn’t even see the root causes.
  • Third, in each case they found a way forward by engaging outside help to help them gain perspective, restructure their processes, develop as leaders, and move from the ideas in their heads to successful implementation.

And it is that third factor that allowed them to get free from their hostage situations in their businesses.

Do you have something that is holding you hostage in your business? Do you have a business challenge that seems un-resolvable? How does it manifest itself? How do you want to get out of it? Let me know in the comments.

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Matthew M. Thomas

Matthew M. Thomas, EPC, is the President of the L M Thomas Group.

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