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The Reluctant Leader, Part V

By Chuck Violand

March 2, 2015

The next two factors that may affect the size an entrepreneur grows his business are addressed in The Fifth Discipline, a groundbreaking book by author and noted business authority Peter Senge. In his book, Senge writes about two contradictory beliefs most people hold that limit what we feel we’re able to create in our lives, and by extension, our businesses. These center around the basic belief that we are powerless to achieve the things we say we want to achieve and our feelings of unworthiness to deserve what we say we want. Together, he refers to these as “Structural Conflict.” Here’s how they play out with some owners.

I don’t feel I’m capable of achieving greater success: the underlying belief that we don’t possess the talent or the ability to learn what we need to know in order to grow our company.
I don’t feel I deserve greater success: the deeply held belief that we don’t deserve the things we say we want.

Either of these two beliefs, frequently held deep within the recesses of our subconscious, can hold us back from achieving the things we say we want. It’s like trying to climb a mountain with two 50-pound dumbbells tied to your back; they’re just extra weight on an already difficult journey. The closer you get to your goals at the top of the mountain, the steeper and more slippery the slope can feel under the weight of those beliefs. The higher we climb to reach our goals, the harder it becomes to actually achieve them and the harder we have to work to make progress.

After a while, several things tend to happen. As we approach our goals, it’s common to start to lose traction and our progress slows down. Unless we have a profound reason for wanting to achieve our goals, it’s easy to start sliding down the slope and start rationalizing our goals away. We convince ourselves the goals weren’t worthy in the first place or they weren’t important enough to keep working toward. This is where entrepreneurs frequently become exhausted with the struggle and either give up (“It wasn’t important in the first place”), or start searching for magic answers to their growth dilemma: opening additional offices, service-line diversification, joining industry networks, etc. None of these strategies is wrong in and of itself. But none of them address the underlying structural conflict.

The fact that we’re all aging is another issue that comes into play. As we age, it can become more difficult to maintain our drive, or at least our stamina, in our quest to reach our goals. Once again, without a convincing reason to continue the push, the dumbbells will ultimately win out.

Before we can “commit to the truth,” as Senge puts it, we must recognize that we have these beliefs, and explore both their sources and the impact they have on our behavior in pursuit of our goals. Remedying this is by no means easy or quick. It is difficult and can be fraught with emotion, as becoming more self-aware usually is. But, with our new understanding, we can then choose strategies to address these beliefs and move our businesses forward.