The Fairy Tales We Tell Ourselves

Is what you know holding your company back?

Once upon a time, there was a business owner, who we’ll call “Joe.” Joe struggled for years to build his business into what he thought should be possible. He was convinced the marketplace needed what he had to offer. Yet, after 15 years, all he had was a $60,000 note at the bank to show for his work. He wanted to throw in the towel, but to get out of the business, he would have had to buy his way out. Instead, he chose to discover what stood in his way.

Unbeknownst to him, everything he thought he “knew” about his clients, his employees, even about himself was keeping him from reaching his objectives. He was his own company’s greatest weakness — the same story of nearly 90% of CEOs today.

It wasn’t what he knew to do — or didn’t know to do — that was his greatest obstacle. Rather, the problem was what I call his knowledge-to-
action gap: a zone of fear in his life that kept him from taking action because he feared he didn’t have the key to his business.

The key to success in today’s world is the speed at which you are first able to discover what is needed by your customers and then, subsequently, implement it. Hesitating to pull the trigger out of fear is the primary reason 87% of companies fail to execute their strategy every single year. But it’s not the actual pulling of the trigger — it’s the thought drama, the limiting conversation that thwarts the action.

The power Joe acquired to be able to move beyond this seemingly impossible situation is different from the types of power most people, even the most successful CEOs, have learned in their lives. Ultimate power is saying how it’s going to be, and then having it be that way — to declare something into existence by virtue of one’s speaking, and then taking solid bold action, now. It has nothing to do with one’s competence or ability to fix problems.

This advanced level of language-driven power gives one the ability to take something that one would never believe could be created and declare it into existence without knowing how to get it done. It is a transformative power that is obtainable by anyone who is not only willing and committed to something important, but also willing to confront and reinvent their thinking to have it. To attain this power to make the seemingly impossible happen necessitates a willingness to let go of your “attachment to knowing.”

Some CEOs are understandably concerned with the notion that to own their fears and admit they don’t know would imply that there is something wrong with them. That’s not the case at all. This is not a journey of the soul. It’s a journey of how limiting conversations run your life.

Maybe you see yourself here. You believe you have a great product or service, yet you know there’s something that keeps you from making it happen. This hidden context — the background-limiting conversations you make up about yourself and others are the conversations you use to avoid taking action — to stay “safe” and not risk. It undermines and sabotages what you say you are committed to. While we appear to have it all together, the conversation and self-talk going on inside us voice doubt about who we are. 

Many CEOs reading this will bristle at the notion that I would even suggest you have self-doubt. “I don’t allow myself to think that way,” they often say. Push back all you want — but this is a problem of epidemic proportions for you and the people in your company. It’s your inauthenticity and your lack of integrity about it that keeps you from confronting it. 

As radical as this sounds at first, this is why so many CEOs (87%) are their company’s own greatest weakness. It’s this way of being that keeps your organization smaller than you know in your heart of hearts it could be, and it’s holding you back from your growth potential.

Back to our entrepreneur friend, Joe: When he realized that his indulging in confusion was merely his thought-drama that kept him safe and that’s what was running his business, he was willing to face his worst-case scenario for his company because, as he realized, he was already living it. Joe had to give up that he had to know before taking action and began to take the steps necessary to turn his business around. Today he is sitting on $4 million in profit from last year’s business, and his company was ranked on the Inc. 500 and 5000 lists. 

Daniel F. Prosser is a CEO mentor and author of THIRTEENERS: Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy--and How Yours Can Be One Of Them.

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