Rapid growth can be the brass ring in business, but not at the expense of your business

Entrepreneurs reject work all the time. But I didn’t quite understand why, until 2009, seven years after I started my private coaching and consulting practice in Northern California.

I had an executive client at the time, responsible for running a very large global consulting firm, who wanted to curtail its growth – and I allowed him to. At Active Choices, we lead a body of work called Intentional Energetic Presence, which is largely about cultivating solid leadership skills and cultural health through true self-care—a regimen that has nothing to do with exercising or getting a monthly massage. This includes deep self-reflection; being clear about and true to your values; take time off to think; be flexible and respect boundaries; and being aware of what you want to create.

All this inner work is hard, so it’s not surprising that some people resist it. They often just want the skills, especially the ones that need their inner game the most. In this executive’s case, all my senses were calling out, don’t do it. Do not let the client slide. But I ignored my intuition and agreed to do it ‘his way’.

Two months later, when the results weren’t promising, I told the client that we should either refer him – to another consultancy that would do it his way – or switch gears and do it our way. He skeptically agreed to let us do it our way.

A little over a month later, he came to me dissatisfied. Ironically, he had indeed seen significant progress, but he was frustrated that we hadn’t pushed our method strongly enough to begin with. If I had been stronger and more direct from the start, he said, we would have saved a lot of time. The incident got me spinning.

As I sat in my car in the parking garage after that meeting, processing all my feelings—a combination of frustration, shame, and disappointment—I realized I wasn’t mad at him. Yes, he had absolutely refused “my way” in the beginning. But he was right; I could have stood my ground. If I had trusted myself more and dismissed his doubt from the start, even to the point of walking away from the deal, we could have saved everyone a lot of time, money and energy.

This moment may seem small, but in my work the little things are big things. They may indicate other problems. So I had to commit – and I set out for the why. Why hadn’t I been stronger and held on to boundaries I knew were essential? Why had I overwritten my intuition? And where else could this happen in my business and my life?

I went on a quest to eradicate any incongruities in my life, and I did what I now call a congruence cleanse. Over the next six months, I looked at every relationship, every client, how we worked, how I raised, how my environment supported me (or not), even what I said yes and no to in my day-to-day life. Anything that wasn’t aligned I modified, repaired, or completed. With every big or small thing that I addressed, I felt my confidence increase.

My personal life and business looked very different a year later. We had referred or rejected about 50 percent of the companies that came to us that wouldn’t follow our process. We had updated our criteria and refocused on our why, what and how. Today, our team has quadrupled in size and our revenues continue to grow each year with a few exceptions.

That incident taught me about mission and purpose; it taught me the value of pausing and collaborating with myself in a way I wouldn’t trade for anything. It was what I would later call a wonderfully shitty year, and it set my organization – and I as CEO – in a vital direction.

I’m not saying that good leaders don’t compromise – they do. What I’m saying is that as a leader you have to make tough decisions that might cost you business, or create tension with a client or customer, but ultimately be right. Leadership takes guts, but it also takes the resources to know yourself and your limits, and always be willing to go for something bigger, even if it comes with a price tag.

Get good with that and your business – along with your psyche – will thrive.

From the May/June 2022 issue of businesstraverse.com. Magazine

The opinions expressed here by businesstraverse.com columnists are their own, not businesstraverse.com’s.