I have a client—or, rather, I don’t have a client—who, despite being granted government funding for coaching, has still not booked the first session after four months.
Then there was the company, one of whose directors wanted me to coach the board in time management and planning, who never got round to appointing me because the subject was too far down their board meeting agendas and they never reached it.
Then again, I had a client, a very successful service provider whose turnover had plateaued: they fervently wanted to grow the business and, indeed, in the early days they had been able to do just that.
Why do people not take action they know is necessary and is completely within their abilities?
Let’s put aside the businesses who don’t take action because they don’t know what action to take. They don’t have a plan so, while they might want the business to grow, they haven’t worked out how it should happen.
Then there are those who have planned—or at least thought about the progress of their business—but they haven’t taken action because they don’t know how to do it. They lack skills which can be acquired or bought.
I’m talking about businesses who, like the service provider above, know what to do and how to do it, but they just aren’t doing it. Or they are doing it (they think) and it’s still not working. Or businesses who use the behaviour they need to overcome as the excuse for not tackling that very behaviour.
The MD of the service provider was genuinely bemused that the business wasn’t growing and, being a rational man, had explained the situation in terms of two, somewhat questionable, beliefs. The first was that ‘in order to grow a business, you need big clients’ and the second was ‘we don’t know how to get big clients’. So, he employed me to teach him to get big clients. Which I did. Unsurprisingly, no big clients materialised.
With businesses that are stuck in this way, sooner or later I get round to the question, ‘So how comes it suits you your time management is appalling/you’re not putting on clients/you’re pathologically busy/etc?’ When it is first encountered, this is a highly counterintuitive question.
However, I stick to the notion that, whatever people do—however bizarre, against their own interests, or even wrong—at least part of the reason for doing it is that they get a positive benefit somewhere along the line, even if they’re unaware what it is.
And the first benefit for some people is that they get to stay in their comfort zone, to do only what they’re familiar with, even if it doesn’t bring the results they want or need. Doing something different is just too risky.
What is outside the comfort zone? Certainly, if you believe it will be bad out there, it will be. Better to have a new model. Map the comfort zone idea onto a standard model of stress and you’ll see that the comfort zone is equivalent to the safe, but relatively unproductive first stage. The second stage of the stress model is an area where the individual is under pressure—not stress—and, arguably, is working at his or her best. Adrenalin is raised, there is excitement, a buzz in the air and far more gets done—and done well. So think of a stretch zone outside the comfort zone and actively enter it.
There’s no doubt that, when a business owner is failing to take action, the effect will show up in other people in the business. There will likely be other behaviours going on: ‘busyness’ – lots of activity, not much progress – and an emphasis on roles, rules and duties underlying the comfort zone stuff. These behaviours, which may show up more or less strongly, have an element of inauthenticity about them.
Underlying them… is doubt. Doubt that the business will be a success, doubt that people will buy from it, doubt that people will like the business owner—all sorts of doubt. Doubt, which again may be more or less strong, but whose origins you can be certain lie well before the business was started.
The business whose sales had plateaued started to grow after the business owner suddenly realised, during coaching, that he hadn’t trusted himself to run a bigger business. He had been subconsciously ensuring that the business stayed at a size he was comfortable with and, frankly, undermining it just enough to keep it there.
Whilst there are many ways successfully through the doubt phase, here’s a remedy that’s suitable for all. In Indiana Jones and the last crusade, Mr Jones is standing at the edge of a deep chasm. On the other side is the holy grail, but there appears no way across. Luckily Indiana has a parchment showing an old drawing of a man apparently walking on air. “This must be a leap of faith”, he says. So he steps out into the chasm only to find a bridge under his feet, and soon the holy grail is in reach.
In Susan Jeffers’ immortal words: feel the fear and do it anyway.
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 5 march 2013 . image: Free images