Now that I’m more than 30 years into my career, I’ve been reflecting recently on the place of business within life. What really matters? Is it success? Happiness? And should I really have to choose one over the other?
Deep thoughts for a man who flunked 9th grade algebra and eked his way out of college with a lackluster 2.7 GPA. I’m pushing the limits of my capability for existential thought.
There’s one thing that is true for everyone, though, regardless of their profession or level of education. Age and experience create knowledge and — one would hope — wisdom.
In my case, the world has become less black and white over the years. Less “I’m right, and they’re wrong.” There are now more shades of gray that have slowly come into focus. I am certain, however, of one thing, and that is the importance of growth.
To me the contrast between growth and the alternative — simply staying the same — has sharpened. In this area, I feel clarity. Blessed clarity.
I’ve heard many comments over the years regarding the question of business growth vs. holding the course. Many of those comments tend to equate the decision to grow with long and tiresome work hours, painting it as the unhealthier option. Here are a few examples of these types of comments:
“I would rather be happy than rich.”
“Family is the most important thing in my life. Work isn’t.”
“Having a healthy work/life balance is huge for me. It’s certainly more important than working myself to death just to be successful.”
Often, it can feel like making the commitment to grow is the same as choosing to be unhappy, alone and unhealthy. I’m a firm believer that the opposite is true.
As I’ve observed the evolution of many businesses, it is my experience that those who choose to stay the same or rationalize their lack of growth with excuses (often disguised as virtues) have the hardest time finding personal fulfillment.
Here is what I believe to be true: A business is either growing or it’s dying. Stagnation does not exist as a prolific state in our universe, and the same goes for business. This includes your business and yourself as a leader, by the way.
You are either personally growing, developing a richness in character and self-awareness, confronting and overcoming tough personal issues, or you are being left behind to defend your declining leadership with comments like:
“It’s the economy that’s causing my business to struggle.”
“The weather just hasn’t been on my side.”
“All of my competitors are slow too. I drive by their shops every day. You should see all the trucks parked in their yard.”
“All employees care about is their paycheck, so why should I care about them?”
Contrary to what you might believe, running a business that isn’t growing is hard. Really, really hard. I’ve been there, and while I was a part of that state of stagnation, it seemed like a normal state of being.
We’d cut costs and staff positions here and there, lose good people, and rationalize their loss by amplifying their weaknesses. And as I look back on those times, I realize how much hard work was associated with “just staying the same.”
To make things worse, I didn’t have much of a work/life balance, either. The unease that I felt while overseeing a business in decline never truly left me, even when I was with my family, “enjoying” a peaceful day at home.
During those times, I did not find that I was happy. And my work/life balance had vertigo.
I have come to realize that the work it takes to remain the same is harder than the work it takes to grow and then stay in growth mode. I would make this case for personal growth, too. Which brings me to my next point.
To grow a business and stay in growth mode, you’ll have to grow the leaders and the people in your business. You simply can’t grow your business without first growing your people.
When you are growing both as a leader and as a business, and growing your people along with you, the feeling of momentum is contagious. It is felt by your employees, your customers, and the community at large. You can see it in the faces of the managers — pride, accomplishment, and a sense of worth. From growth comes a heightened sense of optimism. It creates confidence. From growth you derive energy and the capacity to give.
From growth all good things flow.
Jack Tester is a Leadership Coach at Nexstar Network a business development and training organization serving hundreds of independent plumbing HVAC and electrical contractors in North America and internationally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information visit nexstarnetwork.com.
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