Tales of a Bottleneck Business Owner – Sally’s Story
You are only as good as the excuses you make!
This is not in anyway an encouragement to make better excuses – this is calling you to look at the excuses you regularly make, (also known as the reasons you can’t do stuff and the stories you tell yourself). These are the things that determine the pace at which you move forward, how or if you achieve your goals, dreams and aspirations, or whether you settle for quiet desperation – ok, that might be a bit dramatic, it might just be you settle for what you know you can do and fall short of why you are really here and the impact you want to make with your life.
I can hear some of you screaming out of the Internet – ‘why does this stuff have to be about life, a bigger mission, making an impact’ and the truth is: it doesn’t. You can sleep through your life making excuse after excuse and even convince yourself it is not your fault and there is no other way – that’s absolutely your choice.
But, and it’s a big but, I’d put money on the fact that as you are reading this, means you are a seeker, a difference maker, someone who already knows they are here to make some kind of contribution – even if you are not quite sure what it is. In reality we are all here to make a contribution, we all impact on somebody or something – it’s just that a lot of the difference we make day in day out, we consider to be ‘business as usual’ – it’s just what we do.
As humans, significance – the fact that your life matters – has a lot to do with how you see the contribution you make. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for a second everyone has to go out and change the world – but I do believe we all change our bit of the world, both with what we contribute and with what we hold back.
Which brings me back to excuses. How often have you had a great idea or been offered an opportunity which sounds really exciting, while at the same time you find a tsunami of reasons about why it’s not possible, flooding through your mind. Whether you listen to them or not isn’t really the point. The point is your brain, or more specifically your neuro processing, is firstly about keeping you safe – so living and breathing, your physiology autoregulated, your chemistry stable and your brain processing familiar patterns and well-versed stories.
Those stories come from childhood, from your social environment and what you are regularly exposed to. Most of our stories come from regular insidious exposure – like being told how clumsy you are, how you are not clever, not pretty, not popular etc and left unchecked they can become part of the identity you develop for yourself. Some stories come from powerful single experiences, particularly in childhood, where an action or experience leaves you feeling shamed, isolated or at risk, creating a rapid imprint and subsequent neural reaction when the same triggers are experienced.
It is also fair to say that the positive things you say to yourself, or others say about you, form part of your identity too, but your brain prioritises the negative, as that is what potentially makes you unsafe. Think about the last time someone paid you a compliment versus the last time someone criticised you – for most people the criticism has much more impact than the praise.
Part of your limbic brain function is to create reference and give meaning to your experiences, memories and emotions – all geared around keeping you safe. So, if something makes you feel vulnerable, at risk or in some way fearful it is most likely your brain will serve up a whole load of good reasons why you shouldn’t do it. The trouble with this is that accounts for a lot of the things we don’t already regularly do.
Cue your favourite excuse. I can’t because …..
Your excuses create bottlenecks in your life, not just in your business. They stop you being the person you are here to be; they stop you making the impact you truly want to make. Your excuses are also in your control! You created them, you can change them – if you know what they are and if you want to. Now I’m not saying this is easy, your excuses are your default way of showing up, your habits and you’re probably not always aware you are making them.
Managing your excuses takes a bit of mindfulness (also known as paying attention), clarity about how you want to show up and usually a fair amount of upfront effort to consciously change the way you react to situations, opportunities and your own internal dialogue. The good news is, the more you kick the excuses habit, the easier it becomes. Your brain gets used to action and positive dialogue and creates new pathways (or default responses), your comfort zone expands and things that made you feel vulnerable, at risk or in some way fearful, become business as usual.
How do you get there? (your homework)
1. Make a big old list of all the excuses you make – sometimes this takes a few days as you have to catch yourself in the act so to speak – remember a lot of this self-sabotage is unconscious.
2. Look at what’s on your list and decide where to start – usually when I do this exercise with clients excuses fall into a few categories and it’s quite easy to identify the cluster that have the biggest impact, of the excuses that are least congruent with the person we want to be. Start there.
3. Take baby steps and be kind to yourself – it’s probably taken you decades to develop some of your excuses, it may take a while to recode some of your internal programming.
4. Take notice of the things that once phased you and while they might not be totally comfortable, they are not super stressful either – this is how you know you are making fewer excuses and increasing the impact you want to make.
If you are not actually doing anything different (although you want to), check in with your self-talk and make sure you haven’t simply ungraded your excuses.
There is no Sally’s story – she made an excuse and didn’t tell it! Don’t be like Sally
Tales of a Bottleneck Business Owner – Pete’s Story
As many of you know my career background is in Health, or emergency care to be exact. One of the most important things in emergency care was to get to a working diagnosis fast. In the absence of complete information there are usually enough symptoms or clinical indicators to suggest a likely cause.
This is also true of the bottleneck business owner. One of the classic symptoms is ‘everywhere I look something needs doing’. There are a few reasons why this may happen: genuine overwork – although you might like this one, it is not the most common; prioritising the wrong stuff – it’s surprisingly easy to get busy for the sake of being busy; not delegating what others can do for you – they might even be better at it than you are; and finally distraction – and I include in here procrastination, excuses, errands, anything that takes you away from your priority jobs.
This pattern is often followed by overwhelm, this reduces productivity and can create general dissatisfaction with your lot.
Say hi to Pete, he is a trainer, he works with larger organisations looking at teams and communication, he’s been in business a while and worked with the same handful of large organisations for a while, they know him well and love his work. Unsurprisingly, when one of them developed a new internal ‘micro university’ they wanted Pete to be heavily involved.
For Pete, this is where his challenges started. He needed new course material, stuff branded for the micro university, different evaluation and impact systems and nearly double the amount of training hours he had been contributing. Pete quickly ran into trouble – behind on the creation of new material, juggling training dates with his other long-term clients, and his own business admin didn’t get a look in. Two things happened in close succession: one client didn’t renew Pete’s longstanding training programme; and he finished up staying up most of the night to sort paperwork for his VAT return which was due the next day.
Pete was completely overwhelmed, working all the time not really seeing his family, and still everywhere he looked something needed doing. His view – he was overworked, didn’t have enough time, and he was worried he was letting clients down and others might not re book him either. Pete had a VA who worked a few hours a month, a couple of trainers he worked with occasionally, yet he felt most of the work that needed doing only he could do.
Now it’s easy to look at someone else’s business and see what could be done differently – not so much when you are in the middle of it – or the bottleneck. As far as client’s were concerned Pete had two challenges, creating training materials and availability to deliver training.
Creating training materials: Pete was great at writing content, but found it hard making it into training packs, his VA on the other hand, used to create workbooks and PowerPoint for her previous boss before she started her VA business. Pete didn’t know she could do this and was worried about handing it over as it was quite time sensitive.
Delivering training: In Pete’s view people love him, they are buying him and sending another trainer – even one who has worked with him before – will be a disadvantage. The micro university is new work – it might be the same client, but the content and the audience are different – so Pete may not be the only one who can deliver the work.
Pete’s attitude to delegating / outsourcing is actually the bottleneck here, he has the contract and the funds to get support with the work, but he sees delegating as a huge risk – if the training pack’s not right he may not have time to sort it, if the client doesn’t like his associate he might lose the work. However, what he is doing is not sustainable, personally or for the business. If you are in a time for money business – which Pete is, the only way you grow is to free up your time focussing on the things that only you can do. For Pete this is the relationship with his clients (not just the one expanding into the micro university), the actual content creation for the new work (not the design of the assets) and delivery of key training activities for all clients (not all training delivery).
Pete discovered his VA actually made the training materials much more quickly then he would have done himself, he needed to make minimal changes and she has taken responsibility for production and delivery to clients once they are signed off by Pete. He also works with a small team of associate trainers, all trained by him delivering the micro university courses. As soon as he freed up a little capacity Pete went through all of the things he did in the business and decided if he should be the person doing them or not. If not, he then looked at what the possibility of delegating / outsourcing was. This process gave Pete most of his evenings and weekends back, a more sustainable business – less reliant on him for everything.
If you are a bit like Pete – whatever your industry, think about this – the bottleneck you create by controlling or doing everything yourself is hurting your business, your team (or those around you), potentially your clients and probably your bottom line.
I hear three common excuses for not delegating / outsourcing:
I can’t afford it.
It’s too specialised or other people don’t know enough to do this.
It’s quicker to do it myself.
Let’s debunk these excuses:
I can’t afford it – think about how much your time is worth. If you are getting to the stage you are juggling client commitments around business activities – whether this be product development, accounts, following up leads, then it is probably financially beneficial to get help – this also applies if you are spending your evenings or weekends ‘catching up’ when you prefer to be spending your time elsewhere. If you don’t have enough client work, then you might still want to spend your time on business development rather than admin – you just have to decide where your cash works hardest for you. Outsourcing some stuff might still be appropriate, but make sure it is a business essential – an all singing all dancing website or swanky office might not be, on a smaller scale neither is another therapeutic trip to the stationary shop!
It’s too specialised or other people don’t know enough to do this – get over yourself, there is very little in this world that only you can do. This is your ego, your vulnerability and your fear talking. Other’s might need a period of training, it might take them a while to get into flow, and they might just bring their own creative ways or doing your stuff better. I’m not saying everything can be done by someone else – although this is a very freeing place to be in your business, I’m saying make sure that you are not hanging on to stuff for the wrong reasons.
It’s quicker to do it myself – I love this one and have been guilty of it myself more times than I care to recall. Yes, it may well be quicker to do it yourself in that moment, but when you are still doing it yourself for the tenth time because you’ve never delegated or shown anyone else how to do it, think about how much time you have used and consider your choices.
Finally have a think about where you spend your time and consider doing the following: make a list of all the things you do, categorise them as client work, business admin, business development, then decide if you need to do them or whether they might be better delegated or outsourced. How much of your time are you spending on things that really need you to do them?
I do this exercise regularly – I also find it quite sobering, even with the excellent team I have around me it’s still very easy to fall back into bad ‘control freakish’ habits.
If you’d like to share what you find, we would love to see you in the Brave Virtual CoWork group – or if you are not a Facebook lover join the conversation in comments below.
At the risk of sounding too ‘woo woo’ have you ever had that sense that something massive is just around the corner, or that you are part of something bigger – you just don’t know what it is? I believe this is part of our collective consciousness, the energy we transfer between one another by the way we show up, the way we behave and the stories we tell. You must have felt it – someone comes into the room in a foul mood – everyone is affected, you’re sobbing at the end of a film and you’re not quite sure why.
We are much more connected to our environment, the energy around us, the behaviour and attitudes of others than we might like to believe. The upside, of course, is we also get to influence that environment by what we contribute, positive or negative. I believe we are on the brink of a major societal shift; we are moving into an era where impact is much more significant for people, success is measured in the value created and diversity is recognised and not feared, and sustainability is more important than consumption.
Don’t get me wrong we have a way to go, but it starts with a few brave individuals sharing their vision, ideas and innovations, with other people recognising something as desirable, and gradually a movement builds. Once this happens, change happens. Often this feels like it’s happening really quickly, yet in reality we just don’t see the hard work, the effort and the influencing that the few contributed to building a movement – I don’t recall who first said this, but “it takes about 10 years to become an overnight success”
If you are still reading, have you noticed the similarities to how it goes in business?
Whether you are an ideas person but not a finisher, a dot the Is and cross the Ts person, whether you chuck it out there and see what happens or you prefer to just check it one more time before you share, there are many challenges to actually getting your product or service to a recognisable sustainable position. And guess what? A lot of these challenges are self-made!
Welcome to the life of the bottleneck business owner. In most stages of business growth – including just getting started, there is opportunity for the bottleneck business owner to do their stuff. They usually show up when you are out of your comfort zone, overwhelmed or simply ignorant. I know this sounds harsh, but I’ve helped 1000’s of people over the last 18 years, and in some form or other they are in their own way – the bottleneck between where they are and the success they want to achieve. You can’t get to that place of bigger impact, of doing what you are here to do, of living a fulfilled life if you are stuck in the bottleneck.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing the tales of a bottleneck business owner – and most importantly how you start to address them. Some of these are drawn from personal experience, some from clients and some from studying neurobiology, human behaviour and its consequences.
Whether you intend to start a movement, create local or global change or simply make a decent living for you & your family it is easier when things flow without bottlenecks. The bottleneck reduces flow, it slows things down, and in business terms they can be frustrating, inconvenient and occasionally go unrecognised. Here a few things to think about when assessing where you might be the bottleneck in your business:
Are you the person holding up progress – whether it’s because you need to get a task done, sign something off, or make a decision?
Do you delegate where appropriate, do you trust people or are you a control freak?
How do you behave – are you curious, courageous, informed or a little insular and risk averse?
Does procrastination get in the way of production?
Where do you sit on the perfectionism scale – if it’s not perfect (and it probably won’t be) it’s not happening is your mantra you may have a problem.
Your thinking – fear and what you believe is possible (or not possible) can propel you forward or keep you stuck.
Being aware of the impact you have – whether you work alone or with a team, it’s a great place to start, think about your business, what’s flowing, what’s stagnant and what might be blocked.
Some of us can wax lyrical about our successes, experience and accomplishments, some of us are much more circumspect. Bottom line is, people have to know enough about you to feel safe – to connect, to trust, to spend time with you, to buy from you and so on.
If you have no difficultly talking about your successes, congratulations – you are probably in the minority. Your biggest takeaways from this blog are:
1. Monitor what you are saying to people. Is it relevant? Does it help them on their journey? Does it position you to get the credibility and attention you are looking for?
2. Bigging yourself up to boost your own confidence or make yourself feel more credible rarely works, and can often do you more harm than good, as can irrelevant boasting.
3. Remember that, just because someone else is not shouting about their achievements, doesn’t mean they don’t have any.
If you do have more of a challenge talking about yourself, you are not alone. Neurologically we are programmed to stay safe – this can often involve fitting in, not making yourself a target, and not challenging the status quo. Most often this happens unconsciously, you won’t necessarily know this is what you are doing. Look out for those times you hold back when you don’t agree, you don’t bother to share your successes or experience – even when it’s relevant to the conversation – that’s not just humility – it is quite possibly a neurological habit. It is also quite likely this practice has left you feeling frustrated, overlooked and maybe even cross with yourself or others.
Most of us need to be visible, credible and trusted in order to run our business – whether this is by staff, community or clients. The best way to do this is to comfortably and authentically talk about yourself. Easy to say, but how do you start to change long held habits?
1. Write a big list of all your achievements, successes and experiences – however small, or even insignificant they might feel to you.
2. Next decide which are relevant to your business and will help others either to connect and trust you, or with their own journey. Focus on these.
3. What are you most proud of, what are you happy to talk about and what makes a coherent story.
4. Practice talking about yourself, you will get more comfortable with it and you’ll start to develop new habits.
Why is this important? I absolutely believe we are all special, we all have some unique skills as well as skills in common with others. If you can’t articulate what is special about you or what you do then you are making it harder for others to connect with you and do business with you.
Even more importantly than this, if you consistently underplay your skills and achievements, if you don’t talk about them – or even really acknowledge them to yourself from a neurological level they don’t get embedded into your unconscious, they don’t become part of who you authentically are – and you might feel awkward, embarrassed about, or oblivious to how special you actually are.
Remember that however comfortable or uncomfortable you are talking about yourself, what others might see as your special skills or talent you might take as common sense – because the chances are it comes easy to you.
If you are in the Brave Business group tell us what’s special about you, if you are not yet in the group join here
On last week’s FB live I talked about some of the myths around the benefits of the internet for small businesses. This was inspired buy Seth Godin who said
“The internet is a place great for discovery – but it is not a place where you will get discovered”
Seth Godin (2018)
It is very easy to get into the ‘transmit’ mindset – if you put enough stuff out there some of it will land, people will get to know about you, what you do and then buy your stuff, come to your event, download your freebie etc etc. One of the challenges with this approach is that everyone else is out there doing that too, that means there is a lot of noise and, depending on your craft / industry, potentially a very crowded marketplace.
Online marketing does work of course, with the right strategy and usually a fair amount of hard work over a reasonable period of time. The thing is what worked a couple of years ago doesn’t now, not just because social media algorithms change or email deliverability is tougher; people are becoming tired of the hustle, their defences are up – they are looking for the sell and not engaging with your content. You might well be thinking ‘why is she bothering to write this blog if that’s what she believes?’ and it’s a fair question.
People use the internet for three reasons (my opinion not evidence), for entertainment, to buy stuff and for information however they stay online for a fourth very critical purpose – to feel connected. Whether you are watching events unfold on the news, chatting to friends, sending work stuff or playing games connection, or feeling part of something is a key motivator for being online. This connectedness is one of the most strived for human needs. When you look to show up online, when you want to build your ‘community’, when you are sharing your stuff, connection is where you start.
There easiest way to get connected is to listen, to understand and to meet people where they are, then you can build rapport, a relationship and eventually take them on a journey with you. First – unless we are talking commodity or quick fix most people need to feel they are significant, that they belong in your world. This doesn’t matter what you are selling by the way, there are communities and clubs for all sorts of things and each of those have people who belong.
Look at Booking.com or airbnb for example – you are encouraged to be part of the club, build a profile, talk about your experiences, you can get rated as a customer as well as rating the accommodation – why? It builds connection people become invested in the site.
I was away in a campervan last weekend – and yes, there’s another example of community. Needing to find a campsite late in the evening, out of season, I reached for my phone and the internet. Sure enough, a website exists for the last minute freedom seekers like us; pitchup.com promptly found me a place to park my van for the night about 10 mins from where I was, and to some extent this was the commodity bit ticked I had my immediate problem solved – I was no longer looking at a very windy cliff top or layby. Where the website really won out though, was in its communication. Within a few minutes the campsite owner rang me, asked when we’d be arriving and said she’d look out for us. I felt like we mattered, we arrived got shown to our pitch, had a joke about pop roofs and how windy it was, we felt like we belonged (even though we are complete newbies in the campervan world).
I’ve used the camper van experience because it is a very simple example of how to build your business connection. Although the parts may be complex – lots of campsite owners, undoubtedly differing service standards, but one aim, make finding a place to stay a doodle. People might join the ‘club’ because it solves a problem, they stay in the ‘club’ because it gives them a feeling of being part of something. The first can be delivered solely by the website, the second is on the individual campsite owner and whether they make a connection, this is the bit that validates the website makes people part of the club.
If you are using the internet to deepen your business connection, and you should be, think about how you are using it. Whether it’s social media, blogging or using sales pages you need to connect to engage. Essentially, you need to be able to address one of the reasons people go online in the first place, entertain them, inform them or sell to them. This is the start of their journey with you, and for most of us our first encounter is one of the first two entertain and / or inform, this creates the opportunity for you to do the subsequent, more valuable, community building. Once you start to build connection through interaction, involvement and trust, then you start to form your own ‘club’.
Discovery implies some random lucky act, building a business is not like that – especially if you are building an online presence. Building a business requires you to get connected, possibly hustle less and listen more, and give people a reason to stay part of your business world.
Remember – entertain or inform people, ideally both, and make them feel like they belong in your community.
Belonging is a natural human need. Without it we do not thrive, and yet in a busy and sometimes overwhelming world, true belonging and the peace it brings, can be hard to find. For me, belonging is where you can show up as yourself and feel at home, you are accepted and loved for who you are, physically, emotionally, quirks and all.
A lot of my work with clients is rooted in neurobiology, and there are very good scientific reasons why connection and belonging are important to us. We are all hungry for meaningful connection in our lives – even when we have plenty already. When we feel connected, or like we belong, we function better as individuals and as a society.
While we might play down the need to connect and play up our individualism, self-sufficiency and independence – the brutal reality is that humans don’t function in isolation. We are connected creatures.
Put very simply, your autonomic nervous system, – the heart, brain, gut connection, is around 80% sensory fibres, which means it reacts to information picked up through your reticular activating system, (RAS), from what you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. It will seek to reinforce what you believe, look for more of what you are focussed on and most critically seek to keep you safe by prioritising information that suggests you might be in harm’s way.
Here’s where it gets interesting. What you believe to be harm’s way and what I believe could be profoundly different, sure – burning buildings and mad axe men (unless you were at last year’s Brave Fest), are potential harm, but there is also a massive variation in our individual perceptions of danger versus safety and in our tolerance of the perceived risk. It is these perceptions, or how you feel, that creates the chemical reactions on which your body functions. Much of this activity takes place within the limbic system of your brain.
Connection and a feeling of belonging – creates a sense of bonding and empathy, it reduces risk perception for most people. This is in part because we feel safe, can afford to be more vulnerable and let others get closer. This is very different to ‘fitting in’ where we adapt our behaviour, our look, even our opinions in order to fit in with the group we are with. This can have the exact opposite neurological effect to belonging, creating a state of heightened awareness, sometimes an internal clash with your internal values, or loss of identity, even feelings of anxiety. Fitting in is not good for the human condition, even though it is what most of us are taught to do from a very early age, through subtle conformity, at school, in clubs, peer groups, professions, long before we get to culture, religion, sex etc.
Anyway, back to business before I really get on my soapbox. Recent neuroscience research – check out Matthew Lieberman’s work – shows our brain’s default state is social thinking – when it has no tasks to process our brain defaults to social processing or making sense of other people and ourselves. Your brain is busy working to make sense of other people; what they think, feel and desire and how that relates to you. In other words, how and where we belong and when lack of belonging puts us at unacceptable risk. Social isolation creates the same reaction in the brain as physical pain, the distress it causes is very real and has major health ramifications.
It also has ramifications for how you do business. If you can create an environment where those you want to connect with, your business community, (not just your clients), feel connected like they belong, they will hang around and you will have a greater opportunity to influence and serve them.
How do you create a sense of belonging?
First of all, belonging is usually values or belief driven. This means people will buy into your why, your reasons for doing things or believing what you believe, long before they buy you. They will connect through because you inspire them or they are on the same journey, or fighting the same injustices and because they are trusted and can make a contribution. Yes, you read right, to feel like they really belong your clients want to make a contribution. Whether this is as simple as feeling their opinion is valid and heard, or whether they want to feel aligned with what you stand for in some way, they want a common experience – something they can be part of.
I can already feel some of you prickling and saying this is very ‘coachy’, but it is absolutely true of product too. The obvious example is Apple versus the rest of the IT world, but let’s think a bit more laterally – what if you buy toothpaste. Some people will buy the cheapest, some will have a favourite brand and others will make a choice based on sustainable palm oil and deforestation – that is belonging. Evidence also suggests that people will pay a premium to feel like they are part of something doing good. Whatever you sell, to a large extent you are selling the experience.
To create belonging around your business you need to define the experience you give people. Communities people want to belong to have some common characteristics. These include shared experiences and common outlooks; they are a place where members can self-identify as part of that community; members need to feel they are adding value to the community, sharing, learning and contributing, and that their engagement makes a difference.
What can you do to create this around your business? First up, it takes time, most people are quite capable of doing this, they just give up too early. You need to put the effort in, to be authentic and human. The temptation to only share the glory stuff, or to big up what you are doing – success or drama, won’t build you the connection or belonging you need. Here are my five tips for creating belonging.
Be real – share what you believe in, what you stand for, what you won’t allow.
Create desire for association – give your community a reason to belong. This is about experience, what you do for them, what they do for each other, how this exchange takes place, often the simplest things work best – the creation of an online group, meet ups etc.
Showcase members of your community – share their successes, not just your testimonials, show your wider community what your closer circle (often your actual clients), are doing and their experiences.
Create a way for people to exchange knowledge and ideas – as well as sharing your knowledge widely and freely – remember people like to add value, don’t be too precious about controlling ideas and information.
Build rapport – this is critical, depending on the size of your business you may not have personal interaction with every person, but they need to feel they have a personal relationship with you and your team – not your company or website, belonging is personal.
If you take nothing else from this blog take this –
“People remember how you make them feel more than anything else – handle those feelings with care”
Connection and belonging are hugely important to me in life as well as business, it was the main motivator behind Brave CoWork. I know not everyone can join us in Stratford, although you are welcome to drop by if you are in the area and need a place to work, grab a coffee or hang out with some great people (I’m talking about our members here as well as the Brave team).
If you’ve enjoyed this and want some virtual co-working join us in Braver Business (our Facebook community).
Humans love stories! We love stories so much that we unconsciously create story all the time to make sense of, or give context to what we are experiencing. In part 1 of this series I talked about how neurobiology and how story enables our brain to store and sort memories, experiences and emotions. When we don’t have the whole picture, we simply fill in the gaps – fact or truth has little to do with it.
Ever discussed past events with a sibling or old school friend? Then you’ll probably know what I mean. yYou know for a fact you were both at the same thing at the same time, yet you remember different things, or even you remember the same thing very differently. This is because of your individual neurological filters, the way you process and store information you are presented with. Essentially you each exist in the reality you have created through your own stories.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this, if your siblings / friends are anything like mine, a heated debate often ensues about who’s memory is correct – in fact we might feel anything but connected at this point. Here’s the thing though – we might create different story, but we share the same physiological reactions to stimuli we find happy, sad, exciting, scary and this is where story becomes an important part of connection.
Understanding some of the physiological impact of storytelling enhances your ability to engage people, to have influence and truly connect. The fact is our brains respond to story by producing chemicals – hormones, sometimes adrenaline or cortisol, but most often oxytocin – the hormone most responsible for empathy.
“We are all capable of telling great stories – great stories are simple, focused and
Here is an unpalatable fact – people are not interested in your business. They might be interested in you as a person, a fellow human being, they are most likely interested in what your business can do for them. I’m not just talking about sales and services here, I’m talking about relatability, shared beliefs, confidence, trust and a whole load of less tangible markers of whether you are a good fit for them.
Story is your fast track to connection. When we connect with something it happens sequentially – physiologically, emotionally then logically. This might be so rapid a sequence that it’s undetectable – but it is sequential all the same. Story gives people the context they would otherwise make up. It engages them emotionally and enables the limbic brain to explore and connect.
There are a few rules – your job is to tell stories that make people feel things, to evoke emotion and to influence thinking. This means your story needs structure, often referred to as a story arc – a beginning, middle and end. This might be an intro to the situation, then a hero (or key character), a conflict or struggle (the middle), that gets resolved – not necessarily happily, but there is an outcome or ‘end’.
A great example of this comes from neuroscientist, Paul Zak’s research in 2004, he discovered the impact of oxytocin on the brain. During the course of his experiments he told the story of a father of a sick child – a true story, see Ben’s Story.
The gist of the plot is that the father struggles to be with his terminally ill son – it is just too painful. In the first video the father talks to camera while Ben plays in the background, he talks of his pain, how hard it is to be joyful around Ben and ends with the father vowing to be emotionally connected “until he takes his last breath.” In the second video Ben and his father are spending a day at the zoo, it’s clear the boy is unwell, his head bald from chemo, and he is referred to a miracle boy once during the video, it doesn’t talk about cancer or death.
Participants had blood taken prior to watching one of the two videos. The blood tests were repeated after the video. The first video, which demonstrates a classic dramatic story arch – intro key character with a struggle, a solution resulted in a rise in oxytocin and cortisol. The second video which lacked the tension and was more matter of fact than the first video did not create a rise in oxytocin or cortisol and participants did not share the level of empathy with the father that was demonstrated from the first video.
Remember, story is simply the context around your message, the bit that helps people to get it. This will only work if you are both clear and focussed on impact you want that message to have. It also requires you to be honest and authentic. People will quickly see through you if you are trying to be something you are not – and I’m not just talking about the BS lives people portray on social media here. If you are uncomfortable with your story it will show. If your behaviour, body language or tone are not what you are feeling it will show and those listening will feel uncomfortable at best and distrust you at worst. You might bluff your way through for a bit, but you won’t truly connect.
Being able to use story effectively takes the following:
Courage – you have to commit, be all in and vulnerable in your story – this is not the same as baring your soul and dumping all of your problems, woes and failures on the listener, by the way. Vulnerability in this context is about honesty, dropping the mask and being yourself.
Clarity – plan your story, look at the emotion you want to evoke, the message you are sharing and the value to the listener.
Structure – use a story arc, create a set up conflict and resolution.
Credibility – see the last paragraph! Your aim is to create a story that helps your listener along their journey, make sure it is simple enough to be understood and relevant enough to be relatable, and congruent enough to be believed.
Practice – start using story in your every day interactions, get into the habit of using it to illustrate facts, information you share and influence you want to create. Again, I’m not talking about over sharing personal stories, or worse, other’s stories, I’m talking about the stuff that adds value and helps others along their journey. The more you use story the better you will become at being authentic, impactful and compelling.
In the end, story is simply about providing context for people to help them understand their journey and how it might intertwine with you, or your services. If you don’t provide that context, they – or their brains, will make it up.
Finally, remember we were born great story tellers – we may have become rusty over the years, but we know how to use stories to get our point across – just watch any small child, and chances are you were like that once too.
If you want to have a go at crafting some story for your business and you’d like some feedback join the Braver Business community on Facebook
First up, your brain is a very clever piece of kit – until it’s not. It has a sophisticated neural network as we discussed in part one of this series, the trouble is it doesn’t differentiate between real and imagined. Which basically means whatever you are thinking about, focused on or actually doing has the same amount of power over how you feel, how you show up and what you actually achieve. Great news if you are feeding your brain with empowering, self-affirming stories – the trouble is most of us do just the opposite.
We are wired to stay safe, to repeat patterns and to fear the unknown, therefore most of your unconscious narrative serves exactly that purpose. Unconscious is the key bit here, you repeat the stories, or patterns so frequently they are just part of who you are – you probably don’t even recognise them as stories – they are just part of who you are. Unless you can identify these stories, they will continue to drive your life – and you will probably call it fate. One way of finding them is to look at your favourite excuses or our ‘inner critic’, both of which serve to stop us taking risks that might impact our ‘safety’.
Your identity – or how you see yourself, is totally tied up in the stories you tell yourself!
I’ve talked to 1000s of business owners and leaders over the years and sadly many of the stories I hear, often from outwardly successful people are stories of ‘not enoughness’ in some form or other: not bright enough, not lucky enough, not connected enough, not fit enough & so on… Many of these stories build out to create firmly held self-limiting beliefs, things you can’t do or won’t achieve.
It’s one thing knowing this but understanding why it happens and what to do about, it is where story gets really powerful. Many of these beliefs grew from stories created in moments of emotional processing. Daniel Goleman (1995) calls this Emotional Hijacking – essentially something happens and your limbic system, particularly your Amygdala reacts to the stimulus more quickly than your more logical neocortex can think and plan its response. The limbic system fills in the actual knowledge gaps with story drawn from previous emotional encounters and from this a physiological reaction often reinforcing your values and beliefs. And so the hijacking cycle is created.
Fixing this is not as simple as saying a few affirmations – it’s not what you say out loud that has the impact, but what you truly believe internally. This said story is still a fast and sustainable route to behaviour change.
Step One: Get familiar with your stories,
What do you repeatedly tell yourself? (think inner critic here if you are struggling)
What do you really believe about yourself?
What excuses do you consistently make?
Once you bring these into your consciousness you can start to unpick them. I find Robert Dilts’s Neurological levels model helpful here.
Let’s start from the bottom, Environment represents where and when, Behaviour is what you do, Skills represent how you do it, Values and beliefs why, and identity is who you are (or how you see yourself). Spirit then represents you vision /purpose.
When looking to make a change in your story (or your beliefs), you need to work at a level above where the problem exists – so for the most part this is at identity level – most challenges come from what you believe to be true about yourself (or your internal stories).
Having identified your stories step two is deciding whether or not they are helpful and empowering or whether they limit you.
I suggest you dump down all the stories you tell yourself regularly then ask the following questions:
Is it true?
Does it serve me?
Some stories when you look at this way are clearly not true – your logical brain can see that straight off, these you need to deal with. The best way to deal with them is to consciously focus on the evidence that proves them untrue. For example:
I can’t do public speaking – for the vast majority of us that is untrue. Public speaking may be undesirable, terrifying even, but you could do it. So, what is in the way? It’s not the ability to speak – and you probably have examples of when you have spoken in front of others to prove it, at school, at home socially – even if you weren’t perfect, you did it, draw on these to evidence the fact that you can speak in public then build up your skills and knowledge through practice. If you focus on it enough your brain will start to look for more evidence and gradually replace the ‘I can’t story’ with a new one.
Some beliefs you hold may actually be true but believing them may not serve you. I couldn’t run a half marathon may be true, but if I’m training for a 10K that belief probably doesn’t serve me. It is possible for a human of my age to run a half marathon, because they do all the time – so therefore it is possible with training, so what I need is a plan, a load of practice and a new story – I’m not planning to run a 10k by the way. If that were my belief it would absolutely serve me, I don’t like running.
Finally, the best way to deconstruct stories that are not true, or don’t serve you, is to decide what you need to believe to achieve what you want to achieve or be the person you want to be. The trick here is to make the new story a stretch but believable, if I were to run, however well I trained I’m unlikely to be an Olympian! It is quite possible I could get to half marathon stage with time and effort though.
Once you identify what you need to believe creating the right story to support it becomes easy, for example, if you actually needed to speak publicly focus on your message not the act of speaking. Your message is what drives you, create compelling stories around why you are sharing it, what you have done so far and where you have evidence of speaking previously – then start to take some action, whether it is practice or small presentations – or the dog act, this sends messages to your limbic system that undo the emotional hijacking you may have previously created. A new story forms.
In short, you choose what you believe either consciously, in a focused empowering way, or unconsciously by default based on your past experiences and beliefs – either way story is the answer.
This week is national storytelling week in the UK, do yourself a favour and check out your own stories.
If you need some more help join us in the Brave Business Community www.facebook.com/groups/BraveScene/
Storytelling seems to have been around for as long as we have. Cavemen used story in the form of drawing and signs on rocks to share tales and teach about hunting; ancient Egyptians used story to educate, entertain and communicate – both visually and audibly; ancient Greek philosophers – such as Plato, told stories that still impact the world today. They understood the power of story, even if they didn’t understand the neurological workings of why story is important.
“Those who tell stories rule the world”
Plato (about 2400 years ago)
The way we tell story and consume story has changed throughout history in line with technology available – the way we process it has not!
In this three-part blog series we will explore the neurological impact of story, starting today with how we create stories in the first place.
Basically, story enables us to make sense of the world around us. It helps us to connect, to understand and to see perspectives other than our own. We can dip into a make-believe fantasy world for while, explore other realities and immerse ourselves in things it may not be practical to experience in ‘real life’.
Interestingly, accuracy is not the most important thing when processing information, coherence is. Your brain is attempting to sort and react to billions of pieces of information from internal neuro pathways and external stimuli every second. It has to prioritise which bits of that info create a threat to your safety in some way and deal with those.
Think about it like this – if your brain were a rail system the objective is to get trains from start to destination as quickly and safely as possible. Information fed to the ‘controller’ forms the basis of decision making – does the train go straight through, does it need to change line, does it need to stop completely? The sooner the controller can process that information the sooner he can move on to the next train. If the controller can see the whole rail circuit, what else is on the line, what the weather is like etc, then he can make a rapid decision. If he can only see part of the picture he cannot. This slows the progress of all trains.
Your brain uses narrative to process information quickly – that narrative is derived from memories, experiences and neurological conditioning. There are a number of different parts of the brain involved in memory formation, the key ones in terms of narrative are:-
The hippocampus, which stores linear and autobiographical information: time, space and people, if you like; the amygdala which attaches emotional significance to memory. This emotional significance is critical in how we process information – strong emotional responses such as shame, guilt, grief, and fear can create a physiological trigger when faced with similar information in the future.
The amygdala is also key to forming new memories – particularly those related to fear or threat to safety. When information is incomplete the brain processes what it has drawing on narrative from your memory to ‘join the dots’ and create the appropriate physiological response.
The neocortex is responsible for higher functions and processing in humans – it stores ‘facts’, language and reasoning. The challenge is that overtime we transfer ‘memories’ from the hippocampus to the neocortex as facts – whether they actually happened the way we recall them or not.
Why does this matter? From a very early age we tell ourselves stories about our actions, our experiences and the actions of others, these stories create a reality within which we exist – this can either expand our perspectives and horizons or constrain them depending on the types of story we tell ourselves.
Ultimately, story – whether internally or externally created, enables us to relate, to connect and to engage emotionally. It drives our behaviour, our feelings and the action we take. Consciously or not we all use story to process information and the quality of your stories has a direct impact on the quality of your life.
Next week we will be looking specifically at how to manage the stories you tell yourself and about yourself, before moving on to how connect with others using story.
In the meantime, think about what stories you regularly tell yourself, do they serve you or hold you back?
Honestly, hot on the heels of an extremely busy client workload, a retreat in Marrakech and Brave CoWork’s first open day, strategic feels a bit of a stretch for me right now. I think flying by the seat of my pants probably has it covered.
I believe when you are playing big, going for what you want in your business, strategic can look like chaotic; strategic can get lost in the chaos; and strategic can become something to think about when you come up for air.
There are many things that impact on strategy, not least the culture of your business, and yes this still applies if you are the only person in your business – you might call it your style or your personality, essentially it is still the culture in which you operate. The Brave culture is very much one of trying new things, being ok with not having all the answers before we start, respecting all team opinions regardless of role in the business and accepting that not every initiative or launch will work. This only works because there is a strategy underneath it, a loose one on occasions but a strategy all the same. This means that when we think about risk, about new initiatives, we can very quickly decide whether they are on mission or not. Then we decide whether they are viable or not.
You might legitimately be thinking ‘how does this relate to blogging?’. Have you ever had that ‘oh sh*t’ moment where you realise you’ve not sent anything to your community for a few weeks? Swiftly followed by – what can I write about? If you have you are not alone. Focused, valuable content is something many business owners struggle with. Strategy sorts this. It keeps you and your business focussed on what you want to talk about, where you add the most value and how you connect with potential clients. Random blogging might be fun; it doesn’t necessarily help your business or position you as a thought leader or even a contributor in a specific field. Constantly having to think of something to talk about can be really hard work.
Imagine a scenario where you know exactly what you are writing about for the next 3 months, the topics are aligned with your key business messages and what you want to be known for, and you are talking about stuff that matters to you, that you are knowledgeable about and the words just kind of flow out of you. Congratulations if you already do this, it makes life so much easier.
If, on the other hand, your inner cynic is in overdrive about lack of spontaneity, being out of touch, manipulating the market etc etc, no-one ever said you can’t be controversial, tap into topical issues, or even re order your blog plan if it suits you. What having a strategic plan does is it enables you to get more intimate with your audience, to be provocative and challenging because they are familiar with what you talk about, they may or may not agree with you, but they have given you a platform.
When you write a blog you are engaging in a transaction with your audience. You are trading your knowledge for their time – if your knowledge or opinion isn’t worth their time they won’t read your stuff. If they don’t know whether it’s worth their time or not, because you are not strategic in what you talk about, it’s a harder decision to make.
If no one is reading your blog what are you left with – your google ranking for that blog. Guess what, if you are random about what you talk about you might get lucky, but the chances are you won’t have included subjects you want google to know you for or keywords your potential clients use. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying strategic blogging will have your SEO covered, it’s nowhere near that simple and I’m not an SEO expert. The reality is talking about the subjects you want to be known for is beneficial for humans and for SEO.
How do you get strategic about your blogging? Think about the top three key things you want your business to be known for, and start there. Once you have those key messages you can create specific content that adds value to your audience and positions your expertise where you choose.
For example, one of Brave Scene’s key messages is bravery over blame – having the courage to explore what gets in the way, over making excuses and blaming others or your circumstances. I talk about the stories we tell ourselves about the neuro biology of those stories and how to change them. Last week, for example, I talked about learning as a procrastination technique, about how we use the need for more knowledge as a cover story for our not enough-ness
I keep a sheet on my wall with our key messages on. While the key themes of what Brave Scene is about are constant, the specific messages might vary from quarter to quarter depending on what’s topical, what the business is focussed on – such as the CoWork launch. The sheet that goes on the wall is specific to that quarter. Once it’s up, anyone can write down ideas or comment on ideas. We draw from the news, from conversations with clients or from things they have learned and read about. When we come to look at our social media strategy – of which blogging is a critical part, it’s easy to pick subjects from our ideas chart; subjects that are on message, in line with what the business is doing and things I feel strongly enough to write about. This ideas sheet doesn’t just cover your blog strategy by the way, it will also have your Facebook live, podcasts etc. all covered.
None of this means you can’t add something in if something happens that your business should have an opinion on. What it does mean is the pressure if off when you get busy, when like us over the last month, your strategy looks like chaos, you still have focus – you might actually get that blog done and stay in touch with your audience rather than disappearing off the face of the earth until you are less busy. Consistency is everything when it comes to engagement.
My challenge for you this week is to pick one of your businesses key messages and come up with a couple of blog ideas from them. If you don’t know what your key messages are, defining them is a great place to start. If you are in the Braver Business group and would like to share your ideas or get some feedback, feel free to comment on the post I’ve started about this. If you are not yet in the group and would like to join, click here.
Strategy is your friend, and your guide, use it wisely.
As someone who values academia, who has had the privilege of being both student and staff in the university sector, and who loves learning for its own sake, I find myself somewhat conflicted writing this article. On the one hand learning is a justifiable activity in its own right and on the other, I watch business owners struggle on a daily basis because they feel they need to ‘learn’ more before they can show up, get their product or service out to market or justify the prices they are worth. I’ve even seen people who spend more on learning how to do something than they are ever likely to make back from that thing.
Here’s the thing, intellectual curiosity is critical to success, to being a thought leader in your field, to being able to network and connect with all sorts of different people – reading, watching, listening absorbing new knowledge keeps us agile and helps us to grow and adapt to life and business. When it becomes a distraction, a procrastination tactic, a reason not to do stuff – then you and your business have a problem. I believe we each have a place of balance, a level of knowledge – or place of ambiguity from where we are happy to act, and this may be different for you than it is for me, and that’s ok.
When I talk about this balance I’m really looking at personality traits and patterns, not habits and stories we tell ourselves. Many personality profiling tools stem from four quadrants: fact / process driven extroverts, fact / process driven introverts, people / relationship driven extroverts and people / relationship driven introverts. Personally, I use DiSC profiling with clients as it is practically and easy to understand; they all do the same job – help you to understand yourself and those around you better so that you are more able to connect. They are not designed to put you in a box, give you an excuse or somehow justify your behaviour. That said, if you naturally lean towards the fact / process driven traits, you are likely to need more information in order to act, than your more people / relationship driven colleagues. Those with a more extrovert preference are likely to make decisions faster and with less need for all the facts than those with more reflective introvert traits. These are generalisations, and the important thing for you is to understand where your balance sits. This way you can recognise when you genuinely need more information to act and when you might be procrastinating or making excuses for something you find scary in some way.
Let’s be honest, putting your stuff out there for scrutiny, criticism, maybe even ridicule is scary – it doesn’t matter if it is something you’ve made or something you teach or a service you provide. Keep it under the radar and you can keep perfecting, tweaking and playing with it without putting yourself at risk of any of the above. Yet the unseen risk to your business, your self-esteem and your reputation is far greater by keeping your stuff under wraps.
At the end of the day, what good is knowledge unless you use it? I enjoy learning for its own sake, I enjoy applying what I’ve learned just as much – most of the time. Does this mean doing something new, or selling something new doesn’t scare me – hell no! I’m just about to launch my first Co-working space, I’m terrified! There will be stuff I don’t know, things I’ve forgotten, and plenty I do wrong – will waiting to open prevent or reduce that, I doubt it. What it will do is increase my apprehension, allow me to hold off on sharing this with our local business community and cost me a load of money. By the way, it’s too late to be paralysed by fear, our open day is 29thNovember, 4 days after I return from hosting a business retreat in Morocco.
The point I’m really making here is that if something is important enough to you, if it’s impact matters enough, it’s courage not knowledge that moves you forward. You are likely to sit somewhere between apprehensive and terrified, and your brain will go into protection mode. Its job it to keep you safe and you are about to do something new, different and potentially risky. You are neurologically pre-programmed to mitigate that risk, to find reasons why your course of action is incorrect to reduce the perceived threat level to your very existence – sound a bit dramatic? Well it is exactly what is going on in your unconscious!
To overcome this, you have to consciously override your unconscious processing. Taking some action, whether it’s deep breathes, a brisk walk or pushing send on that mail out, is the best way of altering your neuro chemistry – of regaining control of your over active brain. Going back to the computer to do a bit more research or signing up for another course is unlikely to solve the problem or to help you bank balance.
Next time you feel the urge to learn something else, take a moment to check in with what’s going on – is it genuinely new knowledge or a new perspective, will it enrich you or bring you pleasure and is it a reasonable use or you time. If yes, great, enjoy yourself. If on the other hand, it’s reactive, driven by a fear of not knowing enough, exposure or straightforward distraction therapy, then ask yourself what is really in the way, and more importantly what will it take for you to feel safe enough to act.
It’s a cliché but imperfect action trumps inaction every time. It you want a bit or support; accountability and connection join the Brave Facebook community.
Well ok, technically there is, but not when it comes to running a business – you might be a sole trader, solopreneur, or freelancer – this doesn’t mean you work in isolation. Increasingly, business structures and roles are becoming more fluid, people have more than one line of accountability and smaller businesses regularly work with individuals and teams they don’t directly employ.
It is this last group I most want to talk about. Connection is key to human existence and this includes in our work lives. There is plenty of emerging research (Seppla 2012) that shows emotional well-being, physical health and life satisfaction are all enhanced by strong social connection. So how do you first identify who is really in your team, and second, ensure you create strong social connections within your team – especially if you work remotely from each other.
If you are a small business with no direct employees it’s likely your team will vary in size and membership depending on what you are working on. There are likely to be a few consistent people though, and they might not be that obvious. In the context of connection – and not being a one man band – your team includes anyone who impacts your business, your decision making and who has influence over what happens with your business, and yes, I’d include family members, friends, clients and mentors in this group; as well as your accountant, people you outsource to, use as freelancers or work as a freelancer for. All of these people can impact on how your business performs and how you feel about work. For all of you who said you work for yourself so that you don’t have to manage people – I’m sorry. You may not have to line manage, but we all manage the people around us to some degree.
This more fluid management comes down to basic human connection, how you show up, how clear you are about what you need and how prepared you are to listen to what others need. Human connection is mostly about belonging, an innate survival strategy for many species including humans. To maintain connection, people often strive to fit in at the expense of really belonging, this in turn causes internal incongruences, dissatisfaction and even stress. If you are wondering what the difference is, fitting in is where you moderate your behaviour and attitudes to be accepted as part of a group and belonging is where you feel accepted for being who you already are. The sort of connection that enhances wellbeing – and business success, is one where members feel they belong, are accepted for who they are and can contribute without fear of personal rejection, (even if that specific contribution is rejected)
How do you make this happen?
There are four key influences on effective social connection:
Work with the right people – it can be very tempting to just pick people you like, people who are like you or people who won’t question you too much. This is not your dream team! Work with people who share your values, believe in your goal, and who have different skills to you. These people will challenge and question, not to be difficult, but because the outcome matters to them too, they belong on the mission.
Clarity – there are many clarities needed when it comes to working with others, especially if you are working remotely. The most important is that everyone involved understands the mission, the stakes and their role in it. It is also important you know your team members on a personal level. I don’t mean you have to be down the pub or in each other’s houses every five minutes, but you do need to know about each other. You need to be clear about what motivates them, what is going on for them, what makes them vulnerable and what allows them to flourish. Social time is important for connection even when you are remote, do things like having a coffee break together over video calls, meet up face to face from time to time if possible. Most of us under communicate – this this can be disastrous for clarity, especially remote and fluid teams, it can be very easy to feel disconnected or out of the loop. As the ‘manager’ it’s your role to ensure people stay included and connected.
Use technology to enhance connection – I’ve mentioned video conferencing above – if you work remotely it is one of your best friends, even if people feel a little wary to begin with. It is the next best thing to face to face as far as connection goes – most humans have a visual preference when it comes to communication. They feel better able to understand, to empathise and to stay safe when they can see the other person or people. There are many other tools for project management, messaging, tracking customer journeys all of which help your business stay more connected. The important thing here is that you pick a couple or three things, ensure all involved know how to use them and what is expected of them, then use them consistently.
Accountability – sounds like a no brainer, but it’s amazing how often things are just left in the ether in the hope someone will deliver on the task. Setting expectations for your virtual team is important. It creates clarity, it gives people freedom to act. Most freelancers, service professionals and remote workers chose that path for similar reasons, one of which is freedom over micro management. Clear expectation works both ways, it also enables you to keep people on track and on time.
None of us can run our businesses without other people – whether they are our clients, our families supporting us or actual team members. It is worth putting in the effort up front to create genuine social connection with the people involved in your business. When they belong, they are bought into your mission, there is a level of mutual respect that enables all parties to show up, contribute their best and even mess up occasionally. These are the people who will go the extra mile if needed, who will have your back and who will stay connected even in tough times. It’s on you to build these teams and create connection.
If you want a practice, or feel like you may need a bit of social connection yourself, join Braver Business the Facebook community for business owners, creatives and entrepreneurs who are brave enough to show up and do what that believe in.
Accountability is huge for small business owners, entrepreneurs and freelancers that I speak to. It’s also a double edged sword. Many people muddle accountability with rules, loss of freedom, and obligation – for some the exact opposite of why they went into business for themselves.
In my view, clarity and accountability go hand in hand. If you are not clear about what you want to achieve, where you are going and how you are going to get there, it is very difficult to hold yourself – or anyone else, accountable for progress or lack thereof. Yet lack of clarity is one of the most common things I see in small business clients – and some not so small businesses, for that matter.
Without accountability you are free to go with the flow, to set your own direction to do stuff on your own terms – all things many business owners relish and state as reasons for going into business in the first place. You are also free to procrastinate, under deliver, miss deadlines, forget stuff, make excuses and a whole lot of other stuff that makes life as a business owner so much harder than it needs to be.
The thing is, when it’s your business, your livelihood – as well as that of your family & your employees, if you have them, you are it – ultimately the buck stops with you. That can be a heavy burden to bear alone – especially when you are wedded to a vision of freedom and pleasing yourself. It is no coincidence that one of the major selling points for mastermind groups and online forums is accountability – it genuinely can be hard to go it alone.
There are three parts to accountability and all are equally important –
Mindset – This is probably the most talked about and the least practised. Most of us are very good at making excuses for ourselves when we are scared or don’t want to do something. This retrofit reality doesn’t serve you. If you find yourself making an excuse for your actions, inactions, procrastinations etc. stop and look at why. What is really going on: are you scared, do you lack knowledge, is something misaligned with your values? There will almost always be an emotional trigger and it’s only by understanding that trigger that you can decide whether to act differently or not. Holding yourself accountable for your mindset is not the same as giving the voice in your head free reign, in fact it’s the opposite. It is questioning the stories you are telling yourself, deciding whether they are helpful or holding you back. Just think, if you took the action you really wanted to take instead of making an excuse how much closer to your dreams would you be? And finally, learn to deal with not getting what you want – don’t waste time making excuses, blaming others and wallowing in self pity – you can only control how you respond to stuff not what actually happens to you.
Clarity – If you are not absolutely clear about what you want it’s hard to set goals, involve others and follow up on outcomes. Clarity is the first pillar of a brave business; without it you are destined to wander around in the wilderness. Clarity allows you to involve others, whether it is to help you to be accountable or to work with you, or to buy from you. My number one rule for any new project is get clear – get clear about what we want to achieve and get clear about what we are prepared to do and not prepared to do to make that happen. This enables two things. First, we get clear about goals, targets and aspirations and measures of progress & success we can be held to account for. Second we can delegate. Successful delegation is a whole blog in itself – and something that comes up frequently for some of our larger clients as well. Here are the highlights:
Be clear about the outcome you want?
Be clear about what you are delegating – the task, responsibility for outcome, accountability for outcome?
Ensure the person / people you are delegating to have the skills to undertake the thing you have asked of them.
Be clear about how / when you are available for questions, feedback, sign off etc. depending on the degree to which you have delegated
Tell people what you need but not how to do it – in other words delegate, don’t micro manage.
Structure – This is really about skills and systems, and it’s easy to learn. How many times have you been derailed by something that appears to come from left field and needs all of your attention, or something that becomes more urgent than it is important because you have put it off for so long? Structure prevents this. Structure removes the chaos that imprisons you, kills your creativity – and reduces your potential for success. Structure creates the freedom and the ability to do things on your own terms that so many business owners crave. As a, mostly, reformed chaotic I’ve learned this the hard way! Here are a few simple structures that help you stay accountable without feeling constrained.
Stay compliant – it’s hard to miss GDPR at the moment, and changes in legislation will demand your attention from time to time. Here I’m really talking about the regular stuff that happens in your business every year, every quarter, every month, things like tax returns, VAT, accounts, monthly obligations that may not be automated, stuff that needs to stay current like insurances and professional obligations like indemnity and CPD if it is relevant to your business. A dated reminder system will prevent the last minute derailing I so often hear of.
Create realistic to do lists – maybe the top three things you need to do and stick to them
Set reminders – give yourself headspace to concentrate on what you are doing without the risk of forgetting important things or even dwelling too long on one thing at the expense of other tasks.
Set goals, measurable targets and deadlines for all crucial activities and projects – especially if it only involves you!
Get comfortable asking for what you want – if you don’t know, no-one else can help you – even if you are paying them to! Asking for help is a bit like delegating, get clear first then ask others if they can help you achieve.
Have accountability meetings – it would be fair to say this is easier with a leadership team / board, an ‘accountability buddy’, a mentor or coach or a mastermind group, but don’t ignore this if you prefer to work alone – meet with yourself! Set time aside to honestly review what’s working, what’s not and what needs to happen next. Then do the same for others involved in your team and people who you have delegated to.
If you don’t get accountable to yourself and to your business you risk drifting, getting stuck or being caught in a storm too often. Accountability is a habit like so much else in our lives, and creating, changing or consolidating any habit can feel like hard work at the beginning. Take each of the above steps in turn and look at where you may need to change your habits.
Remember – lack of accountability fuels your excuses, frustrations and lack of progress.
Last week I talked about vulnerability in my online class.
It struck me prior to this class that we are often taught to find the pain or vulnerability in our potential clients and market to that. We are taught to start by helping to associate people into their pain – then tell them how you will help solve that problem. Done well it undoubtedly works, whether it is the right thing for the person on the receiving end or not.
So, this is where I start to p**s off many people who train speakers; tell you they will grow your business 10x; teach you to build funnels, sales pages, trip wires that convert like crazy. Most of them demonstrate the technique perfectly while exposing your pain, your weaknesses at selling yourself, speaking, converting to sales, and if you are cringing right now because that’s you, I’m sorry. Here’s the thing, this method gets results, good results, results which convert to many sales if it is done well. How many times have you bought a course, a coaching session etc. that you neither needed or used because you got caught up in the moment? Not just me then!
Ethics aside, the trouble with this approach is that most people don’t do it well, most people don’t spend years learning and perfecting their techniques, most people grab hold of a formula and try to make what they do fit. At the same time, they feel uncomfortable – either because they don’t know the formula too well or it doesn’t really fit with how they like to show up, or worse, it has them doing the very things they hate in others.
The result – it damages you. You look insincere or incongruous. I’m not exaggerating – your integrity is at stake here. If people are getting mixed messages, whether that’s in person, on video or in writing, they will not trust you, they will not believe in what you are selling or even saying. If it doesn’t feel right – don’t do it!
I am not saying that selling, marketing and promoting yourself is wrong or bad or even icky – it is essential. Essential, if you want to connect with your audience, your potential clients and your existing clients. What is also essential is that you connect in a manner that is honest and real for you. This, by the way, is not the same as natural and easy, you are still putting your stuff out there, you are still risking rejection, ridicule even. The difference is that you are doing it from a position of strength, of belief – if not quite in yourself yet, belief in the need for what you do, the value it brings and the way it helps people.
The power of vulnerability in business is in your vulnerability – not your clients’ vulnerability. When you can get real, when you can share what you believe, why what you do matters, how it is part of your bigger story, then people can connect with you as a human being, they are attracted by shared values, by your vision, and by a sense of belonging, of feeling genuinely understood. They know you can help them. And you, you get to stand in your own truth, and to attract exactly the people you can best serve – the same ones that are likely to be the easiest to work with and who get the most benefit from what you offer.
I see vulnerability as a real strength, there are so many things you can’t do without an element of being vulnerable. You can’t try anything new, you can’t say no, you can’t stand up for stuff you believe in, you can’t risk being different – without vulnerability you are destined to settle for the safe, the familiar, the groove you’ve already carved for yourself, probably at great personal cost.
Vulnerability allows you to grow, to take risks, to stand up for what you believe in – it’s not about being weak or needy. Most importantly, vulnerability is real, we all feel it sometimes. When you share yours appropriately for the situation and audience, of course, people will connect with you.
Genuine, honest vulnerability keeps you real and I’d say it has just as powerful an impact on people, as the scenario I described at the beginning, just that you get to keep your integrity and reputation.
Do you love what I’ve said or hate it and totally disagree with me – I’d love to hear your views in the comments below.
I’m writing this following my recent business retreat in the Artic Circle – I’m warm, snug and hauled up in my office at home. For all business owners and leaders, space and time to just be is critically important. I believe much of our real growth comes from conscious, and sometimes unconscious, introspection. If we bounce from one thing to the next to the next – whether work or pure fun – we don’t actually have time to consolidate what we take from each experience. Do this for long enough and one of two things happen; either you become overwhelmed or you become an adrenaline junkie. Neither are sustainable, but worse, both risk your ability to really connect with what is happening around you and within your business.
Connection is one of the five pillars of a brave business. Without connection you risk extinction – both as a business and as a human being. Put simply: we do not and are not designed to function in isolation. In this context, connection has three layers:
Being connected with yourself, your purpose, your values. The stuff that is absolutely true to you.
Being connected with the people that you want to do business with, the people that help you in business, and the people who support you within your friends and family. In short, other human beings you are connected to with your business in mind
Being connected to the planet, as part of an eco-system, as part of a bigger structure than you. This means how you interact, what impact you have, what you depend on, and what impacts on you from a broader environmental perspective.
It is this third one, being connected to the planet, that has been really brought home to me while I was up in the Arctic Circle. It is one of the few places on the planet that if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings, if you don’t pay attention to what’s going on with the environment around you, you could quite literally find yourself in a position where your actual life is in danger.
We went snowmobiling whilst there. When we set off it was -26c and as we got deeper into the forest and the mountains, the snow closed in making navigation increasingly difficult – thankfully we had Mikko, our fabulous instructor and guide, with us who has been connected to that land for generations ensuring our safe passage.
You know, it’s such a privilege to be in nature, to be awed by its power and to experience that feeling of real connection to the planet; it is hugely important. It reminded me that as a business you don’t exist in isolation. As a business, you have to work with the elements that you find yourself in, the surroundings that you’re in, and with the infrastructure that you have. And, there is always a way of doing that.
Kiruna, the town I was based in, is a great example of this. It is actually very isolated, especially in the winter, both by its terrain and its weather – yet its two main streams of revenue are mining (about 75%) and tourism (about 20%). In simple terms it has developed its own eco system. Despite the mining, the air’s really clean, the water’s really clean and, when they’re not frozen, people drink from the rivers. In the winter they build with ice blocks from the rivers, and all the food is locally sourced – sustainable, organic food. You know, it’s just such a clean, eco infrastructure.
You need to think about this in the context of your business. How do you get to have that kind of a sustainable, repeatable, clean way of running your business? I’m not just talking about being ‘eco’ here. I’m talking about how you streamline your operations, your business, to make sure that you’ve created something that fits with the environment that you are in. By this I mean it’s easy to get the resources that you need, and that you are contributing back with those resources – this might be in terms of sales and service, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be making a charitable or pro-bono contribution. It means you do something that enhances the eco system you are working in. That flow makes business sustainable, fun, easy; all those things that are really important if you’re going to invest such a huge chunk of your life into your business.
In the Braver Business group, this week is all about connection. To help members stay brave about the action they take in their business, we regularly roll through the five pillars of brave business. If you’d like to join in with this week’s connection challenge spend some time thinking about your business’s eco system and answer the following questions:
What does that system look like?
What role does your business play in that system?
What do you rely on to make your contribution?
What value do you contribute?
Once you have answered these questions you will have an idea of your flow in relation to the system you operate in, what’s great and where you may need to focus more attention or make changes to ensure sustainability.