Chartered Accountant and Erstwhile Entrepreneur
What is the conventional definition of business?
Wikipedia gives the etymology as follows:
The etymology of "business" relates to the state of being busy either as an individual or society as a whole, doing commercially viable and profitable work.
The term "business" has at least three usages, depending on the scope - the singular usage (above) to mean a particular company or corporation, the generalized usage to refer to a particular market sector, such as "the music business" and compound forms such as agribusiness, or the broadest meaning to include all activity by the community of suppliers of goods and services.
However, the exact definition of business, like much else in the philosophy of business, is a matter of debate.
There are many debates and much philosophising about what constitutes business; why people go into business, what is work and what is labour; what is the difference between the two and so on and so on.
None of these debates, which have gone on for centuries, would have prepared me for what ACTUALLY happens in practice!
In the year that I met Théun Mares and the Toltec teachings for the first time, I had been in the business world for over twenty six years, and having reached yet another pinnacle of my business career, I still did not have the answers as to WHY I was in the business world. I mean aren't we ALL in this world? Is it possible for ANY-ONE to escape it?
I started out my business career straight after school as a lowly paid accountancy articled clerk and proceeded to provide my principals with my labour for the next five years at a mere pittance of a salary, always with the carrot that when I qualified as a Chartered Accountant at the age of twenty two, I could really start coining it!
Is THIS what it is all about? Coining it?
So then why in all the years that I had been at school was the primary focus to increase my ACADEMIC abilities? If making money is what life is all about, then why not teach me from a child how to make money?
Why, when I wanted to take bookkeeping as one of my school subjects, was I regarded as a second-class citizen by the academics and demoted to another class where the non-University entrants were placed, even though I was still going to University?
If the focus had been on true education and not on academic schooling, I may have been better prepared for what was to challenge me for the next twenty six years after I left high school.
Once again at University the focus was on academic enhancement and if it was not for the fact that I had chosen to work daily as an apprenticed articled clerk, I may have left full time University at the age of twenty two, entered the business world armed with a business degree - and fallen flat on my face - because I would have had no clue how to conduct myself on a daily basis in that world.
My academic achievements would have been for naught!
Notwithstanding my choice to enter the business world and start working at seventeen years old, I still fell flat on my face time after time in the ensuing years! From my family I learned that stubbornness is something that gives one stick-ability, and stick at it I did. My stubbornness to prove myself at any cost got me to the position of Financial Director in a multi-national company, a position I held for over eleven years.
So here I was at the top - Or very close to the top - of the corporate ladder. A female in a very male world, acknowledged in the eyes of society as successful - all the trappings of success, house, car, title, overseas trips, executive lifestyle - I had arrived, I was coining it at last - and was thoroughly miserable!
I had survived getting caught in the cross fire of the corporate politics, I had survived the back stabbings of my colleagues, I had survived the betrayal of my bosses, I had the world at my fingertips. I could aim for any number of overseas positions, I could even aim for the CEO's job if I really wanted it.
But I didn't.
Why the emptiness?
Simply because I didn't know, nor had I been taught what Life ACTUALLY is, what business ACTUALLY is.
But we cannot escape our fate and with all the seemingly unconscious choices I had made along the way, I was brought to a place in my life where I had to make yet another choice.
Do I continue along this path becoming increasingly more despondent by the day, feeling like my self-respect was being drained from me - or is there another way to do this thing called living life?
I am of the firm belief that each and every one of us is brought to this cross roads at some point in our lives - am I going to do this for the rest of my life and go insane - or am I going to pluck up my courage and step out of the circle?
The minute I decided at some level that I had to do things differently, the opportunities swam my way to help me look at my life as it actually was.
What I found left me dumbfounded and aghast!
I had turned myself into a workaholic for some face-less corporate which was happy to take and take and exploit everything I had to give. My eagerness to be of service had turned me into a prostitute of the system of approval and reward. As a female I had adopted the ways of men as opposed to adapting to them. In the process of, in many ways, begging to be welcomed into the inner country club circle of the corporate animal, I had done my damndest to be included as one of the boys. The result? I had turned myself into a second-rate male and thrown out the window why I had been born a female in the first place!!
And my disillusionment and despair at why my romantic relationships never worked was, with the help of a shrink to whom I was paying vast and regular sums of money, being laid squarely at the door of my parents who had quite obviously failed to teach me what I needed to know in this area of my life and had obviously given me a lousy example to follow!
My path to victimhood was now complete!!
I had all this stuff, all this self-importance, all these business titles - but I couldn't stand my own company, my friends rarely saw me as I was always working, my romantic relationships had all failed, and my business relationships were on the way to follow suit!
What on earth has all this very sad and boring victim stuff got to do with the world of business I hear you ask?
The Toltec Approach
Well, if you think about it, the main ingredient that was missing in my education is that Life is all about relationships.
If you are in business, one way or another, you will find that unless you invest in your relationships with yourself, your shareholders, your partners, your staff, your clients, your suppliers and your bankers, your bottom line will be heading south!
In fact, if you don't get the internal relationships in your business right, you will have no business!
And the bottom line is - if you don't get the relationship with your-Self right, ultimately you can kiss your business goodbye!!
So if you too are in business as an employer and a fellow erstwhile entrepreneur and are reading this, then acknowledge your wish to find a new and different way of relating to those around you - through the medium of your business.
In working closely with clients I have found common themes that tend to prevail throughout any industry. Throughout this business section, instead of giving theory on business principles, I have chosen rather to use actual case studies and to share my findings and recommendations for these specific sets of circumstances. Using these examples to look carefully at your own business situation, you will soon find the common themes, as did I.
As this is an introduction, I will share with you what happens at my introductory session with a client.
My first visit to a potential client is to find out what his or her (for the purposes of simplicity I will stay with "his") needs are and what, if anything, I can do to meet those needs.
The list of potential needs is endless, as you may well know. However, because executives and entrepreneurs are all so busy trying to balance all aspects of their lives, I will initially give you the headlines only!
It is obviously best to get an holistic view of your life and your business and if you need a quick fix that will buy you but a few short hours, then best you look elsewhere! For the headlines I give you will be but SYMPTOMS of your REAL needs!
If you look for the headline that applies to your situation and apply the guidance as a band-aid, you will find you will need to return for the detail - otherwise your headache will return sooner rather than later!!
The following headlines are a menu of what business owners have revealed to me are causing them headaches. Check YOUR symptoms against the following menu. They are in no particular order.
Any and all of these symptoms, if not addressed at the CAUSE, will sooner or later impact on your financial profitability.
- you are questioning your motives for continuing in business
- you are experiencing a daunting list of problems, complaints and a lack of appreciation by your staff and family
- as well as the sense that your personal actions and your care for your people are being taken for granted
- you, as the male leader, making your life about every-one else and every-thing else, and thus excluding yourself from the equation
- huge problems with staff morale
- in-fighting and bickering
- back stabbing and general unhappiness
- sales volumes are not at hoped for levels
- margins are stretched
- expansion of the business is required
- partners are having disagreements
- partnerships need mediating
- exit plans for directors do not exist
- no succession planning is in place
- not knowing who the Captain of the ship is
- not sure who the decision maker is
- no defined role for the Shareholders
- no defined role for the Directors
- your company has gone through relationship changes
- the new relationship needs to be defined
- no clear leader
- staff down the line feeling insecure
- you find yourself with a bunch of so-called adults behaving and reacting like children
- lack of male leadership
- not knowing what is the effect of a lack of male leadership
- no one providing direction and maintaining the focus
- a male role model is being sought desperately by the staff members working for you
- no one is there to provide the lead
- no one is there to point out the direction and
- no one is there to prescribe the practical method to be employed
- not knowing the results of the lack of direction and providing the focus
- lack of bonding - a lack of team spirit
- the males competing against each other as opposed to striving together in the sense of "if I can do it so can you", which is resulting in much conflict in the group
- constant distractions
- no focus and thus no direction
- little commitment
- lack of trust in self and therefore others
- no common language
- you see and feel a group of people with a lack of unity and the team not feeling like a group
The general types of needs I have found are embodied in the menu above.
After chatting and exploring when and how the business came about, I suggest to the Owners or CEOs that
- we put the business aside
- start talking about their own lives and
- what their dreams and desires are and
- what their vision is for their life.
- Then we get back to the business and why they started it and
- how they see this business fitting into their life and
- how it is meeting the vision they have for their own life.
With this approach, that is, starting with their PERSONAL vision first, the REAL needs start to surface.
Of course, it is the rare Owner or CEO who will share openly on the first meeting, as a basis of trust needs to be built for this to happen.
In that case, I act on the perceived needs - the symptoms - and work from there. You will not find this PRACTICAL approach to business in any textbooks. What you will find are many examples of how to tackle the SYMPTOMS of why you feel your business is in need of change.
The following case study will give you a feeling for the Toltec approach to business.
A client, Peter, in the internet services industry, asks me to help him double his sales turnover in the next two years.
I listen carefully and then ask one question only:
"Are you ready?"
"What do you mean 'Are you ready?' ", he asks plaintively.
I say "If you double your turnover in the next two years, are YOU ready, is your infrastructure in place, do you have enough specialists, do you have enough staff to handle double the turnover? Do you WANT to manage a business double this size?"
His eyes grow big, and then it isn't long before he acknowledges that the business is struggling, his partner is in the process of divorcing himself from the business, the staff morale is low and he really would prefer to be building yachts!! That the only way he can see his way clear to fulfilling this dream is to grow the business and then sell it off in two years time!
Because Peter is working with the face value of his challenges, he starts with the ailing business and asks me to start with talking to his partner and his staff to find out why they are not all pulling their weight, why their morale is so low.
So I go and interview each member of the staff. I have very specific questions that I ask each of them, much along the same lines I would approach the owner - mainly about themselves and how their current work fits into their lives. I then collate all this information and feedback and compile a report for Peter.
This is where the tricky part starts - I already know up front that any-thing I glean from staff members, who are only too happy to open up and release the pressure, is only going to be the FACE VALUE of what is REALLY happening in the business.
The following report I give to Peter is typical of many of the situations in which I have found myself.
To Peter, Mr IT Services Company Owner
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - MANAGEMENT OF YOUR COMPANY
Thank you for the privilege and trust afforded me in allowing me to help you in this first step to achieving your vision for yourself and your company.
In compiling the attached Report on the feedback from your staff, I found myself addressing the report to the Managing Director as the decision maker of your company.
However it has become clear to me in the past weeks that decisions of a strategy nature are made by yourself, your brother-in-law, as the Chairman of the Company, and your wife.
Therein lies the core of what you are experiencing, reflected further down the line in your company right now.
The immediate challenge I was faced with, was to whom do I address this letter? This is a symptom of not knowing who is the Captain of this ship?
If I as an outsider am not sure who the decision maker is in your company, then your staff must also be faced with the same issue.
There are two issues here to be addressed:
- The role of the Shareholders
- The role of the Directors
Your company has gone through relationship changes in the past few years so it is not surprising that we are at a point now when the new relationship needs to be defined for the benefit of all concerned.
When there is no clear leader, the staff down the line will start feeling insecure, whether they are consciously aware of this situation or not.
Then their behaviour starts to change and you find yourself with a bunch of so-called adults eventually behaving and reacting like children.
What I am seeing from my talks with the staff are the symptoms of a lack of male leadership.
I am not going to make assumptions as to how this came about. We can discuss that further at our meeting. It will no doubt relate to you, as the male leader, making your life about every-one else and every-thing else, and thus excluding yourself from the equation, as explained in my Report below.
What is the effect of this lack of male leadership in providing direction and maintaining the focus?
The staff look for the actions and not the words - they learn far more from a male who leads by example, the words serving only to confirm the example. Where and whom is the example they must follow?
The staff members working for you are seeking a male role model desperately,
- to provide the lead,
- point out the direction and,
- prescribe the practical method to be employed.
The results of the lack of direction and providing the focus are or will become:
- lack of bonding - a lack of team spirit
- the males will start competing against each other as opposed to striving together in the sense of "if I can do it so can you", which will result in much conflict in the group
- constant distractions
- no focus and thus no direction
- little commitment
- lack of trust in self and therefore others
- no common language
What you will start to see and feel is a group of people with a lack of unity and the team not feeling like a group. This will and must affect your financial profitability.
The way forward and suggested solutions to address the behaviour issues are in my report attached.
However we will need to:
- resolve the issues of the male leadership first i.e. clarity as to what is in it for you, if anything, to fulfil this role and,
- devise a new practical way to share the management of the company in such a way that every person is clear as to what is expected of them.
We have all arrived on this planet with a unique purpose to fulfill.
We will only start to find true happiness when we find the work that we love - and then share this life's work with a group of like-minded people who share this SAME purpose, share your vision - and are then willing to do whatever it takes to unfold this vision.
Because what is in it for each person in your business is the desire to unfold their potential through the medium of YOUR business, your purpose, your vision - which is the same as theirs.
If you follow this guidance, there will never need to be employment laws, trade unions and all the man made impediments that you face on a daily basis just to keep your business going.
As Kahlil Gibran shares in The Prophet:
"....Work is love made visible.
"And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
"For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
"And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
"And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night."