By Chuck Violand

August 3, 2015

Adding to the list of underlying causes of hiding out are a couple I’ve touched on in prior Notes: fear of the unknown and fear of the known. In other words, to avoid the consequences acting on these fears may produce, we hide out and do nothing.

Fear of the Unknown. I’ve often commented that, as our companies grow, we as CEOs, and frequently as managers, are constantly facing challenges we’ve never had to face before in our businesses. This can be scary. The financial, competitive, and employee complexities of larger companies are different and frequently more challenging than the ones we faced when our companies were smaller. Even for owners with advanced degrees in business, the challenges they face when the bullets start flying in the real world are different than the ones they studied in the classroom. These challenges can be intimidating—sometimes intimidating enough to cause leaders to hide out by doing nothing or by retreating to the comfort and security of their smaller businesses. Even conversations we have with ourselves can become debilitating: What if I confront my employee and he quits? What if I check my income statement and see we’re losing money? What if I call my customer and she tells me she’s unhappy or isn’t going to pay me? Sometimes we choose to hide out and do nothing rather than face these unknowns.

Fear of the known (or highly suspected). Knowing the things we’re supposed to be measuring or the decisions we’re supposed to be making is one thing. Actually doing those things is another. Sometimes, we’re fully aware of the expected outcomes of the business decisions we’re about to make, yet we deliberately choose to hide out from making them. While choosing not to make a decision is actually a decision in itself, hiding out from a decision and not letting anyone know what’s going on isn’t.

Most businesses aren’t started with the dream of becoming the next Microsoft. Many of us started our businesses to fulfill personal needs—physical comfort, financial security, emotional fulfillment. These needs may not include developing the skills it takes to lead larger businesses or making the tough calls that come along with them. When that’s the case, our responsibility becomes finding the business model and the people that will allow us to achieve our personal objectives through the businesses we have.

Complications increase when you add family members into the mix. Things can become downright combustible when those family members inherited their jobs, or when they’re being asked to perform jobs they either don’t want to do or don’t feel they should have to do by virtue of the gene lottery. This elevates hiding out to a whole new level that involves both business and home life and can limit family interactions to a very short list of “safe” topics. After all, everyone in the company and the family remembers what it was like the last time mom or pop was asked the wrong question at the wrong time!

Understanding some of the underlying causes that can lead us to hide out from important information or avoid tough conversations is a first step in overcoming this tendency. Next is learning to recognize the consequences hiding out can lead to in our companies, which might help us to take the necessary steps to address this condition. I’ll speak to some of these in Part V of this series.