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Why So Many Small Time CEO’s Stay Small Time

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Gary is a small time example of the American Dream. 

For the purpose of this article, gender is not the issue.  It’s about small time CEO’s so we could just as easily be describing someone named Geraldine, or better, Gerry.  So let’s get back to Gary <or Gerry>. 

Gary has a success story.  Gary is his own boss and he has been running his own company for 11 years.  The reason Gary is a “success” is because Gary has a successful company, and the reason behind that success is because Gary has a certain skill.  For the purpose of this article, it also doesn’t matter what that skill is; Gary could be a landscaper, an engineer, a hair stylist or an accountant.  There are plenty of people who apply a certain skill or talent in an entrepreneurial fashion to become a Small Time CEO.  There are also plenty of people who have experienced a breakthrough from the Small Time to the Big Time and grew their business to have offices in multiple cities, multiple states, or even became multi-national.  Even McDonald’s started as a small time restaurant run by two brothers at one point.

What’s a fact about Gary is that he was good enough at his particular skill that at some point he struck out on his own, became his own boss, and became an entrepreneur.  Like all successful entrepreneurs, Gary applied his skill to the marketplace and because he was “good” at this particular skill, he was able to grow his clientele and his business to the point that it managed to pay the bills and provide Gary with a reasonably decent annual income.  In fact, Gary makes a “better” annual income than if Gary had utilized his skill working for somebody else. 

So as it relates to the proverbial American Dream <which could just as easily be British, German, Brazilian or South African> we say that Gary is a “success” because he is his own boss, he makes a decent living, and he has people under him who answer to Gary, because Gary is “The Boss”.

Good for Gary. 

Seriously, good for Gary. 

Here’s why.

Studies show that 80% of business start ups close their doors within 5 years and Gary has been at it for 11 years.  He didn’t take a dive, instead he has survived, so good for Gary.

While Gary didn’t take a dive and while he does survive, there are a few more facts to this story.  One such fact is, like so many other small business owners, Gary is only surviving, he is not thriving.  He has never been able to get his business to the proverbial “Next Level” and he has never been able to get past the hurdle that qualifies as making it “Big”.  So while Gary is a CEO, the fact is, he is a Small Time CEO, because his company is a “small business” and by small business, we mean any business that has not reached socio-economics describes as Critical Mass, which equates to Gary having a business that is self-sustaining.  A self sustaining business has a critical mass of clientele, a critical mass of marketplace penetration and critical mass of cash assets to weather the next economic downturn or change in consumer preferences. Gary, unfortunately, doesn’t have this critical mass because he is the CEO of a “small” business so in terms of Risk Management, we say that Gary is vulnerable.

There are few more facts about Gary we need to examine. After you consider that he is “The Boss” and you consider that he makes a slightly better income than if he applied his skill as an employee for somebody else, the fact remains that Gary has never been able to expand his business beyond a handful of employees and he has never been able to break through to bigger things.  The Big Time is when the company runs itself and Gary doesn’t even need to be there because the company is self-sufficient and self-sustaining.  If Gary was to make the Big Time then he could be off playing golf or traveling to exotic locations, sitting at home watching YouTube or maybe even starting another new venture and reaching untapped markets that would benefit from his skill set.  When your company makes the Big Time, you have created something called “Opportunity”.  This is when you have the freedom to apply your talent and your passion to go in a new direction.  When you are a successful entrepreneur who has made the Big Time, you have a resource base that affords you the time, the energy and the finances to do whatever you feel led to do with your talents. 

Regrettably, Gary hasn’t made it to the Big Time, so Gary is stuck in the Small Time.

Let’s keep looking at the facts.  The fact is, Gary works long hours and he works at least one day of every weekend.  His spouse doesn’t like the hours he works, his kids don’t like the hours he works, and in moments when he’s honest with himself, Gary himself doesn’t like the hours he works and he doesn’t like the stress of having to take the business home with him every day, every week and for all of those 11 years.  In the beginning, Gary had a bigger vision and greater hopes, but what makes Gary sad is that those visions have yet to come to fruition and his hope is dwindling as time goes by. The sadder fact is, when Gary is honest with himself, he knows that when he calculates all those hours as “The Boss” he comes to the same answer at the end of the equation - Gary is actually working for less on an hourly basis than if he worked for someone else and he is working harder than whenever he worked for someone else.

Simply put, Gary is not seeing the fruit of his labor.

So Gary isn’t happy about that, because deep down, Gary knows that being a Small Time CEO is not what he thought he was going to be 11 years later.  He thought that the Small Time was only going to be for a “small time” and that it was only a matter of time before he would make the breakthrough to the Big Time.  Gary believed that his enterprise would grow to the point that he could leave the micro-management of so many day-to-day tasks and duties to other people, just as these same day-to-day tasks and duties were once left to him when he was somebody else’s employee.  Gary isn’t happy because Gary is professionally frustrated for the simple fact that Gary doesn’t know how to break out of his Small Time rut. 

This small time rut can be defined by the evidence.  In this case, the evidence is measured by the fruit Gary is seeing from his labors.  Remember, Gary is doing “OK” and he makes a decent living, but here’s another fact about Gary that needs to be considered.  Gary’s Small Time enterprise demands a full time commitment of his energy, emotion and effort, so what frustrates Gary is that he is not seeing the growth or the multiplication of ROI that he envisioned he would be experiencing after 11 years of full time commitment and faithfulness to his vision.  In his more honest self-reflective moments, Gary admits to himself that he is getting discouraged <and at some times even despondent> when he considers how much his small time venture nevertheless requires a big time commitment that robs his time, drains his energy and saps his strength, especially as he gets older. 

But Gary can’t give up.  Gary has to keep plugging on if for no other reason than the company has his name on it.  If the business was to close its doors then Gary would feel like a failure.  Gary’s self-identity is now intimately woven into his business entity.  In psychological terms, we would say that Gary’s ego is at stake.  Ironically, it’s this same ego that keeps Gary in a rut because if our ego feels threatened, then we are less likely to ask for help.  In order for Gary to get out of his rut, he’s going to need help.

Think of this rut as a self-imposed trap.  This is where so many Small Time CEO’s find themselves.  It’s the traditional trap for small time business owners who know they are working harder than when they were someone else’s employee, who know that they have more of a burden of responsibility than when they worked as someone else’s employee, and they know that in the big financial picture, they don’t have the resources they need to finish what they started.  As a Small Time CEO, they don’t even have a pension plan to fall back on, because when you are “Your Own Boss” you don’t get a pension. 

While Gary’s business may be sustaining him and his family today, he is aware that whatever happens today is no guarantee for tomorrow. One of the more sobering facts about being a Small Time CEO is that when you don’t have the critical mass necessary to weather the inevitable economic storms that cycle around every 7-10 years, then you are vulnerable to a number of different socio-economic factors that could easily put you out of business.  When you have a small time enterprise then it’s like having a small sail boat.  If the winds of commerce blow against his tiny sail then Gary could find himself being blown onto the rocky shores where 80% of business get shipwrecked and close their doors.

Part of the problem Gary faces is navigational.  He needs help in learning how to direct his path from the Small Time to the Big Time.  The bigger part of the navigational problem for many of the Gary’s of the world is that they are so accustomed to being the captain of their small sail boat that they develop a mindset of self-sufficiency.  Gary is so conditioned to relying on himself that he can’t see outside his own box.  This is part of the trap.  Small Time CEO’s don’t recognize <or want to recognize> that they don’t have all the answers.  In fact, for many of the Gary’s of the world it’s not just about not having the answers, they don’t even have the questions. If they don’t know all the answers and if they don’t even know some of the questions, then in their insular reality of self-sufficiency they won’t recognize how to ask for help.  If Gary wants to break out of the Small Time and break through to the Big Time, then Gary is going to need to find a Guide who knows how to navigate out of congested lanes of Small Time and get into the freedom lane of the Big Time.

There is a science to being a successful entrepreneur and visionary, but most people who have a vision and an entrepreneur’s spirit don’t know the science and more likely, they have never even heard of the science.  The word “science” is not as scientific as it sounds when one understands that the word “science” is simply defined as “knowledge”.  When we don’t have knowledge of something, then by definition we are deemed to be “ignorant” of that knowledge because the word ignorant simply means “unaware”.  And Gary, like so many other Small Time CEO’s, is unaware of the science that could take him from the Small Time to the Big Time. 

The knowledge that Gary is unaware of involves capitalizing on the potential of people, where the focus is a holistic point of view of what other people could offer Gary’s company, if Gary only knew how to release that human potential.  It’s about tapping into the interpersonal power of group dynamics, a power that creates the kind of corporate culture and environment where people want to work together for a common vision and purpose.  When CEO’s learn how to tap into that kind of interpersonal power, then the people in the CEO’s business will make a critical paradigm shift in their hearts, minds and spirits.  They will embrace the inherent human desire to become part of something bigger than oneself, to become part of a group dynamic <or a collective> that is synergistic rather than be individualistic.   

There is an indisputable body of evidence which scientifically proves that most workforces are antagonistic, not synergistic.  The word “synergistic” describes a workforce that acts holistically and co-operatively.  When a workforce is “synergistic” then the people who comprise such a workforce are defined as being “engaged” in the pursuit of ensuring that their company is healthy.  An engaged workforce is committed to the goal of making the company self-sustaining, viable and growth oriented.  Creating this synergy is the critical key to what is required for a business to thrive rather than merely survive.  Without creating this kind of synergy, a company will never breakthrough from the Small Time to the Big Time.

The word that describes the opposite of synergistic is antagonistic.  By definition, workers who are not fully committed to the health and welfare of their company and who are not actively engaged in helping the company thrive, are deemed to be antagonistic to the holistic health and welfare of the corporate vision.  The research in the science of group dynamics for the workplace has diagnosed that the reason most people are not synergistic to the company’s overall health and welfare is because they don’t see where their particular skills are appreciated, esteemed and are making a difference. 

When people don’t feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, then they become retrospective and they become more focused on their own individual health and welfare.  When workers aren’t actively “engaged” in assuring the company they work for is healthy and growing, these workers are defined as being “disengaged” and studies prove that a Small Time business can’t break through to the Big Time if the workforce is disengaged.  A question that Gary needs to ask himself is to what degree are his people either engaged or disengaged.  The research into group dynamics in the workplace has repeatedly shown that upwards of 85% of workers are “disengaged” on the job, so the likelihood that Gary’s people are as universally disengaged as everybody else is almost a certainty.  So the next question Gary needs to ask is

“How do get my people to become engaged at work?”

The answer is, by learning to focus more on the qualitative and less on the quantitative. Paraphrased, Gary needs to learn how to put more of his leadership focus on people and less on productivity, because only his people can push production from the Small Time to the Big Time.  Once Gary begins to embrace that the key to his breakthrough lies in the hands of his people, he will begin to understand the sociological and psychological truisms that an “engaged” workforce only occurs when people feel a mental, emotional and even spiritual commitment to one thing – that the work they do has a qualitative sense of meaning.  While it may be difficult to measure qualitative factors that contribute to disengagement such as discouragement, apathy and despondency, it is easy to determine the quantitative metrics that prove the cost of disengagement.  The latest research by the Gallup Corporation released in December 2017 shows that these numbers are staggering; disengagement has a price tag of more than $7 trillion dollars a year in Western socio-economics.

That’s TRILLION with a capital “T” everybody.

The science of creating the kind of group dynamics that can elevate Gary from the Small Time to the Big Time involves creating the kind of corporate culture where people become excited to rally behind a cause and become committed to a corporate vision and holistic purpose.  This is the science of sociology and psychological.  The reason that most Small Time CEO’s like Gary/Gerry/Geraldine/Geraldo stay “Small Time” is because they are trapped in a mindset of a different science – economics.  Small Time CEO’s focus their energy, emotion and effort on numbers.  They measure new clients, price points, market penetration, productivity and profitability.  In other words, they focus on the science of math rather than the science of people.  What they are blissfully unaware of is that the math never improves until their people improve.

CEO’s like Gary miss this big picture perspective.  They have a form of tunnel vision.  They cling to the belief that their business is about being “good” at a certain thing, be that landscaping, engineering, hair styling or accounting.  They may be very skilled in their particular line of work, but for a corporation to be viable and self-sustaining, other talents and skill sets are required.  When CEO’s suffer from this kind of tunnel vision, they can’t see beyond the narrow skill set that got them started therefore they hinder their own potential to fulfill their vision; but when CEO’s take off the proverbial blinders and start looking beyond themselves by seeking the answers to the bigger questions, they will experience the epiphany that they are lacking certain skills in scientific realms of sociology and psychology.  When they shift their focus from managing mathematical metrics to promoting the potential of their people , they will recognize new directional avenues to achieve the success that prompted them to become entrepreneurs and ground breakers in the first place. 

If Small Time CEO’s want to experience a breakthrough to the Big Time, then they will need to change their own internal mindset from Small Thinking to Big Thinking.  Part of that paradigm shift in thinking is to recognize that their responsibility as the “Boss” needs to change from being a skilled landscaper/engineer/hair stylist or accountant to becoming a skilled sociologist and psychologist in the realm of group dynamics.  This change in mindset is the first step in a corporate navigational change in direction, but if Gary or Gerry or Geraldine or Geraldo never learn how to change their thinking,  then they will never made the corporate changes in direction that are required to go from Small Time to Big Time.

And that’s why so many Small Time CEO’s, stay small time.

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