As a People person, my role is always about identifying the types of leaders I’m working with. When I was a standalone HR manager, it was vital to have some shortcuts to understanding how the people running my firms thought and behaved. I could then flesh out my interpretations and avoid unnecessary tensions.
Now that I’m an organisational psychologist, I like to work with almost-leaders to define the type of leader that will provide them with the easier path to success. They won’t always be able to operate as their leadership profile describes, but it gives them a centre to return to when they’ve been pulled away from what is most comfortable.
Entrepreneurs don’t always have the luxury of operating in their comfortable place. Indeed, being the leader of an SME isn’t comfortable at all. There are standard mountains that an entrepreneur has to climb, especially the first time around, and some people will find some of these easier than others. Examples include:
- Spending hours and hours, often over a long period, crafting the product you want to bring to the marketplace. You’re usually in the workplace during this period, so we’re talking about a lot of time taken from the rest of your life. Family time, time spent with friends, time relaxing… you forgo an awful lot of this as you work your way through your plan. This is difficult.
- Leaving your job with “nothing to go to”. This is a hard decision, whichever way you look at it. Being a driven person, you will have worked hard to get where you are. You will be used to your professional standing, your status among friends, the pride of your family and the security of your monthly pay check: whether or not you are risking everything, you are risking some of this, which is a difficult step.
- Deciding whether you need a partner or are going to go it alone. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, but for others, this can be a big move.
- Finding funding. You may not consider yourself an outgoing person, so even if you feel good about selling your product, how about selling yourself? You have to decide who to target and how, and then you have to go for it.
- Hiring your first employee. You may have absolutely no experience of recruitment, but you have to craft a role, pitch it to the right people and pay a salary – often, even before you pay yourself. This is incredibly difficult.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you will remember how tough these steps were. Whether they were tough in terms of time, complexity or emotional involvement, each mountain is hard to climb.
Decision-making is a muscle – you need to work it
Taking difficult decisions is a muscle that you build. It’s one of those muscles that’s hard even to feel, let alone target, during your workout, but once you get the knack, you can work it over and over again. It becomes addictive, because it brings rewards and they are hard-won.
What about the easy decisions? Well, believe it or not, they are a muscle too. If you aren’t careful, you can end up with an unused, undefined muscle in another part of the body. This is akin to the body builder who ends up with an amazing torso but skinny little legs to carry it (anyone remember the early Mr T?). It’s great for pictures, but when you have to carry something heavy, you realise that your neglected legs are struggling to bear the load.
I could write on this topic endlessly. I can relate it to my very poor violin practice, which means that I can do lots of flashy stuff, but sometimes play sharp. I can relate it to a golfing friend who is pretty good with a driver, but struggles to play 18 holes without being unable to walk the next day. Simply, you have to work on everything if you are going to succeed. Taking easy decisions is a muscle that always needs to be worked, even if you practise taking difficult decisions every day.
At the moment, we can relate this topic to the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). This is a simple loan with excellent terms that is easy to set up. It will help to mitigate any problems in your business that have been caused by the trading conditions of the past six months, and there is no catch. So why aren’t more entrepreneurs using it?
Embrace easy decisions and don’t overcomplicate things
CBILS won’t be right for everyone. The amounts on offer may be too low, or you may not be able to present your figures in a way that is accepted. (This article by our principal Ryan Sorby, who leads BOOST&Co’s Manchester office, explains more about the scheme and how the funding can be used in ways you might not expect.) But others will be thinking things like:
- “This seems too easy; what’s the catch?”
- “I don’t think we’ve suffered enough to use the government’s money.”
- “We’ve managed without extra help thus far, so we don’t need it now.”
You may not realise it, but you’re raising these points because you’ve been foxed by an easy decision. You’re so used to doing things the hard way that you’re trying to complicate something simple in order to be able to make a decision. You are by no means alone in this.
Just in case you’re missing out on a simple decision that could really help your business, I’m going to try to answer those points.
- “This seems too easy; what’s the catch?” There is no catch. The government didn’t have time to wrap this offering in reams of technical difficulties. It is genuinely simple, and all you have to do is work out whether you are eligible. Someone else – Growth Lending, in this instance – will do the rest.
- “I don’t think we’ve suffered enough to use the government’s money.” It is not yet possible to judge how we’ve suffered, or how we will continue to suffer. Three months ago, my accountant encouraged me to take the help offered to self-employed people, and I did, feeling guilty all the way. By the time the second tranche was offered, I knew that I needed it. I now know that it does not cover my losses over this period, but I’m grateful that it covered some of them.
- “We’ve managed without extra help thus far, so we don’t need it now.” This isn’t over. A second lockdown has already begun. You may not have suffered too badly in the first, but you don’t know what might happen this time. You don’t know how different markets and products will emerge from this situation. Taking a loan that may help you now could protect your product, your staff and yourself.
As a leader of an SME, you have probably become a difficult-decision-taking machine. This is massively to your credit. However, don’t lose touch with the odd simple decision that comes your way and don’t seek to overcomplicate it in order to solve it. It’s that old phrase, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. If something easy comes your way once in a while, like CBILS, at least look into it. Not everything has to be arduous.