“It’s not denial. I’m just selective in the reality that I accept.” – Bill Watterson


Are you a Business Owner in denial? This is one of the most common things that we encounter when we meet entrepreneurs. It’s a common affliction, one that could mean disaster for your business. Entrepreneurs, particularly those that founded their business, are deeply protective of their investment. They’ve poured years into the successes and failures of their business. They’ve given blood, sweat and tears. It’s their concept. Their employees. Often their entire life and personal identity. And as Pete says, “nobody wants to hear that their baby is ugly.” The last thing that most Business Owners want to hear is that they’ve got a major problem in their business and it needs to change.


When you’re driving down the highway, and you are tired, distracted, and not 100% focused on the road ahead, and we have all been there, you might ever so slightly veer off track. As soon as that happens, your tires drive over the rumble strips, and you’re suddenly jolted back to your lane. It’s a warning sign. What if you ignore that subtle-but-effective warning sign? Then you’ve likely got a little bit of grass that you’re driving into, and then a guard rail. All warning signs that danger is ahead. But if you go barreling through that guard rail, then it could mean certain, unrecoverable disaster. This is just like owning a business. You hear a rumble that a valued employee is not happy. Rumble strip. The employee decreases their productivity. Another warning. They start to impact other employees’ attitude and productivity. Guard Rail. And you keep charging on. Eventually, and not too far down the road, your business is going off a cliff, and you wonder why.

Toxic culture, and negative emotions can spread like wildfire in an organization. Peg likes to say that you can have the best gallon of tea, sweet, great tasting. Everyone enjoys it, cool over ice. Out of the entire gallon, though, putting just a half a drop of poison in that gallon, just a tiny amount, the whole pitcher is ruined. That one person who is harboring a negative attitude can be devastating for a culture, and simply terminating that person is not going to solve the problem easily. You can’t fish a drop of poison out of a gallon of tea. It’s already poisoned the whole gallon.


Are you having problems in your business with not making enough money, unhappy team members, high turnover rates, and customers who don’t return? You could be the Business Owner living in denial. The first step to diagnosing the problem is to look no further than the mirror. Do people on your team miss meetings with outside vendors frequently? Chances are, they’ve seen you cancel at the last minute. Does your team not return phone calls to clients? They might be reflecting your behavior toward customers. Take a real look at your business. Take focused, real time to look at your processes. There has to be a breakdown somewhere, and if you’re truly honest with yourself you will find it.

The easiest way to tell if you’re in denial about elements of your business is to hire an outside coach. Someone who is a neutral third party can look at your business, your team and your processes, and if there are small signs an experienced coach or consultant will be able to see them. Have a neutral third party do a 360 Review. This process can be eye-opening. During a 360 Review, your coach briefly interviews each employee or collects results with a customized online survey. Once the results are in, then you can get to work on the things that are revealed.


The absolute first step to fix denial is to admit it to yourself. Keep a journal of your journey to improvement. Accepting your role in the problems in your business is the only way to fix them. Otherwise, you can have the best looking car on the block with a flat tire – in other words, you’ve got everything else shined up and ready to perform, but you really can’t go anywhere. Everything has to be fixed in order to win the race. Our guide, 10 Mistakes Business Owners are Making Right Now, is yours free, and it can be eye-opening. Get your copy here.

Once you’ve admitted your part in the problem, admit it to your team. A genuine apology goes a long way. Another benefit to admitting it to the team is that they can hold you accountable for fixing it. Your coach, a trusted advisor, and your senior leadership team can hold you accountable as well. Be careful having your direct reports as your only form of accountability though – they are going to be less likely to have the tough conversation with you. Looking your boss in the eye and calling them out when they mess up is an extremely tough thing to do, and that is what you need to move past the problem.


Fortunately, if you’ve been ignoring or denying a problem for a very long time, it’s not too late. If you’re still in business despite your challenges, it’s truly not too late. But you need some help to get your car back on the highway to greater things. Enlisting the help of an expert could be the lifeline that you need.


Have you been denying a problem for way too long in your business? Is your business not making money despite long hours and hard work? Is your team leaving for better jobs in record numbers? We can help. Schedule your no-cost, no-obligation business analysis today.

About the author,

Director of Marketing, ActionCOACH Columbus

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