Category Archives: Current Events

Managing Difficult Business Conversations Seminar

Bill English, Founder of Bible and Business, is bringing a new seminar to business and health care professions – Managing Difficult Business Conversations. In this seminar, you’ll learn six speaking and five listening skills which will help you manage your most difficult conversations in a more mature and professional manner.

You can hear Bill discuss this two-day seminar with Vince Miller,  founding President of Resolute.

Bill had three different discussions with Vince, which you can listen to:

Be sure to check out the Resolute ministry with Vince has started.  We think you’ll be interested to learn from him and partner with him moving forward.

Power and Narcissism: Can Hollywood Be Honest with Themselves and Us?

I wonder how long it will take for a movie to be made that uses Harvey Weinstein‘s persona as the basis for the movie. I wonder if Hollywood can be honest with themselves in this movie about how they have contributed to a culture where sometimes, a woman is put in a position of having to serve a man sexually in order to get what she needs or wants. An example is in Forrest Gump, where Forrest’s mom trades sex with the school superintendent to get Forrest into the local school. After sex, the superintendent says to Forrest, “You mommy sure does care about your schoolin’ son.” The movie never explicitly portrays this as sexual abuse, but it is nevertheless. It’s a man with power taking advantage of a woman who lacks power.

When any given man (or woman – Martha Stewart is a good example) amasses too much power, his chances of becoming narcissistic is quite high. Men with power abusing women who lack power is well known and not uncommon: JFK, Jim Bakker, Bill Clinton and King Henry VIII come to mind. The proverbial “casting couch” also comes to mind – and that was Mr. Weinstein’s modus operandi (here and here). The fact that a casting couch was both well known and accepted in Tinseltown is an implicit admission that the entire industry has accommodated men like Mr. Weinstein for decades.

Countless movies portray women as sexual objects whose value is found primarily in the man’s selfish enjoyment of their body parts. Their core role is portrayed as serving the man’s narcissistic needs even while it injures the woman – the Huffington Post reports on the phrase “making women ‘rape-ready'”. Nearly all pornography promotes this narrative and it is estimated that roughly 10% of all internet traffic is pornographic (an opposing view puts it at 35%), so it’s no wonder that Mr. Weinstein’s behavior was minimized for so many years. I suspect most of the men in Hollywood are regular consumers pornography, so it probably seemed more natural to them that a casting couch existed in the first place.

But if those with power don’t abuse women sexually, they certainly abuse in other ways. Men like Martin Shkreli, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and others abused thousands (perhaps millions collectively) through their financial schemes and they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. This is one of the core points of the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work” – these people (usually men, but not always) have significant talent and charisma that causes others around them to look the other way when their peccadillos and abusive behavior is known, but isn’t damaging the organization as a whole. So, those around them have a choice: Either confront this highly talented man about his abusive behavior or look the other way. I think those around them conclude that either A) he is too powerful to confront or B) he is bringing so much good to the table (in one sense) that his abusive behaviors are are seen as minimal by comparison.

Power and narcissism is especially harmful in churches and ministries, where, I don’t like saying, my experience is that a plurality of Pastors and ministry leaders can be both abusive and power-hungry guys. They start out well-intentioned, but as their ministries grow, they change. They are usually very gifted communicators with significant leadership abilities. Their theology and exegesis are impeccable. But their public lives can be highly choreographed which hides their narcissism. Privately – don’t cross them or you *will be* on the receiving end of a rather unpleasant experience. I’ve been there several times. It’s not sexual harassment, but it is abuse nevertheless. Experience it enough times and you conclude its’ easier just to sit in the pew and be blissfully ignorant of all the dirt that’s going on behind closed doors. Power and narcissism don’t stop at the front door of a church or ministry.

Politics is filled with elected officials who are both powerful and narcissistic. Our election system is geared to elevate Snakes in Suits. Both parties, mind you, elect these people. Even though the Snakes in Suits book doesn’t allude to this, I was struck by how much what they describe in the book is actually applauded and pursued in our political system. Power and narcissism is apolitical. The fact that a sitting President of the United States could engage in sexual acts (I think harassment solely due to the power imbalance) with an intern working in the White House, lie to the nation about it and then have an entire political party defend his actions is an example of the Snakes in Suits principles on full display.

Sexual harassment is about power and narcissism, not sex. Mr. Weinstein is not a sex addict as much as he is a power addict with lots of narcissism baked in. He expresses his power and narcissism through sexual acts, but he would be no less destructive had he expressed himself in other ways. Hollywood may very well make a movie based on his life, but I doubt they will really deal with the larger issue of people in power who develop significant narcissism and the damage it does to others as well as themselves. You and I see it and experience it every so often in our grassroots lives, but I wonder if Hollywood will be able to get to our grassroots level and become real with us and with themselves.

I’m not holding my breath.

Best Practices Conference

The 2017 Best Practices Conference is for business owners who need to interact with experts who can help them solve their most pressing problems.

The conference is happening on October 26 at the Edinburgh Golf Course in Brooklyn Park, MN.

If you are a business owner with $5M or more in sales, then this conference is for you.

www.bestpracticesconference.com

What I Learned from Haiti

I’m finishing up my second trip to Haiti. I’m sitting at (what most Haitians would consider to be) a rather posh hotel near the airport. By American standards, this is, at best a 3-star hotel.

The economic poverty here is breathtaking. When you come here, you’ll quickly learn that for most Haitians food is a luxury, employment is scarce, education is too expensive, health care is a dream, public services are acquired through favors and hope for a better life is non-existent. I’m not exaggerating.

The unemployment rate for adult males in Haiti is a staggering 85% and most have no more than a 3rd – 5th grade education (here) and the literacy rate among Haitian adults is a low 61% (there is no public education in Haiti, so if you want to be educated, you must pay for it). Even if they can find work other than manual labor, it is questionable as to whether or not they can fill out the employment application.

On Sunday, I talked with the step-father of a child we’re supporting through Reach Global’s Fingerprints program. (The program offers spiritual support, education, food supplements, life kills and medical support to children from (roughly) age 6 through age 18. Kathy and I are sponsors in this program.) He works as a mason and carpenter. He complained that while he wants to work, there simply isn’t enough work for him to remain steadily employed. His reading and writing skills are limited, so his employment opportunities are limited. He has been known to go a year or longer between jobs. He has four children. In any culture, it is tough to support a family when employment is intermittent and scarce.

Add to this the lack of a good transportation infrastructure that limits the geographic area in which workers can realistically travel to/from work and employment opportunities become more limited. Most Haitians do not own their own car or motorcycle. The “Tap-Tap” buses (private drivers driving smaller Toyota or Chevrolet quarter-ton pickups) can be used to get a person around, but they are not always reliable and they always cost money. And traffic moves slowly. It’s not unusual for a 10 mile drive to consume 45 minutes of time. In short, the farther the job, the more impractical it is to try to work it.

Haiti is a humbling and refining place to be. You might be surprised to learn that you can find happy, content people there in spite of their economic poverty. It is a nation of contrasts – some would say contradictions – but lessons can be learned from anyone and here’s what I learned in Haiti:

  • We need the rich
  • Running a small business is hard work
  • Education and business are the vehicles for personal and professional growth
  • Americans and Haitians are not that different because real poverty exists in every nation and people group

Like it or not, we need the rich

Here in America, when we want to start a new business, we raise start-up money from investors to capitalize the business. In Haiti, such an investor class doesn’t exist. Those who do have the wealth are politically connected and it is those connections that keep the money flowing into their pockets. As a consequence, entrepreneurs in Haiti have few, if any, who can invest in new businesses without having to worry about money flowing back to the political class.

Back here in American, we bash the rich. We complain that too much wealth is coalesced in too few people. t takes capital to start businesses and that start-up capital doesn’t come from banks, it comes from investors – the rich.

Today, we’re behind in creating new businesses and the new jobs that they create. The number of jobs created by businesses less than one year old has decreased from 4.1 million in 1994 to 3 million in 2015 (here). The number of startups has not fully rebounded since it hit bottom in 2010. We need to be encouraging entrepreneurism in the younger generations. And we need to stop bashing the rich as if their wealth is inherently evil. Without their wealth, we’ll have a much more difficult time starting new businesses.

By the way, who is the “rich”? Personally, I use this term to talk about the top 20% – many of whom are reading this post now (here and here). If your annual household income is at $120K or higher, then you fall within the top 20% of wage earners. And if you’re in this class, please don’t post back and say how you’re not “rich”. Being in the top 20% of wage earners in the most affluent generation within the most affluent country this world has ever seen certainly qualifies you as “rich”.

Running a Small Business is Hard Work

Haiti is teeming with entrepreneurs. I love this part about Haiti. Drive the main national highway and all you’ll see is small business after small business on both sides of the road. Haitians are a hard-working and surprisingly resilient bunch. At times, they can be an optimistic bunch as well. The entrepreneurs I met are smart and really don’t want a hand-out. Like the rest of us, they want encouragement and, at times, some wisdom from someone who has “been there, done that”. But they don’t want to be pitied. They simply want opportunity to be all they can be. And they are willing to work hard – very hard – in difficult circumstances to take the opportunities they have – however imperfect those opportunities are – and turn them into sustainable revenue. They demonstrate their hard work every day by showing up and running their micro businesses.

I seriously admire the Haitian entrepreneurs.  My fear – and what does happen sometimes – is that the most talented of them see better opportunities in America and move here to fulfill their dreams.  It’s not that they are unfaithful to their homeland, it’s just that they can have a better life here in America (to their way of thinking, anyways) and so they leave Haiti.

Any country needs to try to keep its’ top talent.  Haiti is no exception.

Education and Business are the Vehicles through which Human Potential is Realized

Before doing our medical checks for the teen-agers in ReachGlobal’s program, we had a time of singing and music. One day, before the program officially started, the musicians started “jamming” together – drums, guitars, bongos, keyboards and so forth. The teens (at least they seemed young enough to me to be teens – perhaps they were early 20’s) playing the guitar was impressive. He has serious talent. The singers were – no kidding here – studio quality voices. Back in the day, I once considered going professional with my trumpet. I was that good. I’ve hung around professional musicians. I know the quality required to reach that level. These kids were given the talent for professional work – talent that will likely never be fully developed. I was later told that they all play and sing “by ear” – meaning that they don’t know how to read music.

While listening to these talented young people, my mind wandered to the human potential sitting in the room. As I noted earlier, most adults don’t have much more than a 3rd – 5th grade education. I was near kids who have the intellect and talent to excel at math, science, engineering, technology, business, leadership and so forth. Yet – would any of that raw talent be developed? Would they have the chance to be educated? Or would their lives be lived in survival mode? You see, Haiti doesn’t have a public education system. If you want education, you must pay for it. Starting with elementary and going through college – you must pay for all of it. If you can’t pay, you don’t get educated.

The truth is that our talents and passions don’t develop by themselves. We need education (not just knowledge, but coaching and direction) and work opportunities (think “chances to succeed and fail”) to develop those talents and passions. Schools and businesses – working together – will develop a communities’ human potential. Haiti is wasting much of their human potential, frankly. It’s sad to see.

Americans and Haitians are really not that Different

The World Bank commissioned a study of the poor and interviewed over 60,000 people in economic poverty in 23 countries. In its’ series Consultations with the Poor (here) and the outcomes of that research, such as Voices of the Poor, we learn that poverty isn’t simply an economic issue. Poverty affects every aspect of a person’s life. It damages their dignity, places them in a power imbalance, robs them of their joy and hope in life and they feel invisible to those who have more than they. They live with real pain and often find it damages their most important relationships. Quoting from the book When Helping Hurts:

“While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms than our North American audiences. Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness. North American audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc.”

Hence, real poverty is about much more than a lack of material things, it is about significant damage and separation in the four core relationships that God cursed when Adam and Eve sinned. Those relationships are:

  • Relationship with God
  • Relationship with Self
  • Relationship with Others
  • Relationship with Creation

Many see the economic poverty in Haiti and think that the solution to their plight is to give them money. We look in from the outside and define their problem in economic terms because we’re using outside appearances as the totality of our definition of poverty. What we need to come to grips with is that poverty is something that affects the entire person and separates us from ourselves, our family, community and God. I think this is one of the core reasons that America’s “War on Poverty” has failed so miserably – it simply threw money and programs at the problem and didn’t address the entire personhood of those living in economic poverty.

Therefore, how we define poverty is important. If we define it in more encompassing and not just in economic terms, then how we alleviate it will require more encompassing solutions. If we define it narrowly, then we’ll have narrow solutions. For example, if we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of knowledge, then we’ll try to educate the poor. If we believe it is oppression by powerful people, then we’ll work for social justice. If we believe it is the personal sins of the poor, then we’ll try to evangelize and disciple the poor. If we believe it is a lack of material resources, then we’ll give material resources to the poor. If we believe the primary cause of poverty is concentration of too much wealth in the hands of too few people, then we’ll try to redistribute wealth.

In his book The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues a good case for distributing wealth to the poor:

“The two words tzedakah and mishpat signify different forms of justice. Mishpat means retributive justice or the rule of law. A free society must be governed by law, impartially administered through which the guilty are punished, the innocent are acquitted and human rights secured. Tzedakah, by contrast, refers to distributive justice, a less procedural and more substantive idea.

It is difficult to translate tzedakah because it combines in a single word two notions normally opposed to one another, namely charity and justice…it arises from the theology of Judaism, which insists on the difference between possession and ownership. Ultimately, all things are owned by God, the creator of the world. What we possess, we do not own – we merely hold it in trust for God…[hence] we are bound by the conditions of trusteeship, one of which is that we share part of what we own with others in need. What would be regarded as charity in other legal systems is, in Judaism, a strict requirement of the law and can be enforce by the courts, if necessary.

What tzedakah signifies therefore, [is] that no one should be without the basic requirements of existence, that those who have more than they need must share…with those who less.
This is absolutely fundamental to the kind of the society the Israelites were charged with creating, one in which everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and to be equal citizen in the covenantal community under the sovereignty of God.

Hence, the Bible’s insistence that a free society cannot be built on mishpat, the rule of law alone. It requires also tzedakah, a just distribution of resources.”

I like his concepts of combining justice and charity. But a proper distribution of wealth in and of itself doesn’t solve the core relationship problems that constitute a fuller definition of “poverty” (and to be fair to Rabbi Sacks, that wasn’t his main point). Those who have wealth still have problems with self-esteem (separation from self) issues, family problems, difficulties in community and problems connecting with God. This is a common experience across all economic strata. And if you live without what you really need, are you not in poverty?

Think about it:

Money can buy a house, but it cannot buy a home
Money can buy medicine, but it cannot buy health
Money can buy sex, but it cannot buy intimacy
Money can buy choices, but it cannot freedom
Money can buy entertainment, but it cannot buy happiness
Money can buy education, but it cannot buy wisdom
Money can buy satisfaction, but it cannot buy contentment
Money can buy membership, but it cannot buy friendship
Money can buy safety, but it cannot buy peace
Money can buy a Judge, but it cannot buy justice
Money can buy status, but it cannot buy maturity
Money can buy an image, but it cannot buy a reputation
Money can buy religion, but it cannot buy a Savior

You see, the things we really value in life – things we want and need, such as health, intimacy, freedom, happiness, wisdom, friendship, contentment, peace, forgiveness, a good reputation and so forth – none of these things can be purchased with money. But if you have these things, then I would submit that you are not living in poverty.

Reconciliation is at the core of my Christian faith. Christianity is about reconciling all things to God because sin has infected all things:

19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus Christ), 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1.19-20)

Hence, what I have learned is that if we are going to lift people out of economic poverty, we need to address the more comprehensive reconciliation needs in the four core relationships: God, self, others and creation. This is why Christ came – to reconcile to God all things infected with sin. This is why the most effective poverty alleviation programs address all four relationships. Assistance with medical care, education, life skills, work habits, relationship skills, professional development, spiritual formation, clean water, farming techniques, entrepreneurism and so forth combine to address the comprehensive needs of those in economic poverty.

But here’s the catch – those of us in America have experienced similar damage in our four core relationships, just like the Haitians. Our relationships are just as damaged – it’s just that we enjoy the conveniences and comforts that wealth brings so we look different on the outside. Our wealth allows us to manage our appearances better. But I will suggest that we live in as much poverty as any other people group. I would submit that a “rich” person living on the North shore of Chicago or in Beverly Hills or on Long Island may be living in as much poverty as the Haitians I have worked with, because real poverty is about living with damage and separation in the four core relationships all of us need in life and not having what we really want and need in life – those things that money cannot buy. We settle for what money can buy and we live without what money cannot buy.  We live in poverty.

In this, Americans and Haitians are not that different.

When God reconciles us to Himself, He doesn’t always give us vast amounts of wealth. But He does reconcile these four core relationships and we find that when these four relationships are reconciled, we are lifted out of poverty.

This is what Haiti has taught me.

Bill English

Christian Business Owners and the Politically Powerful

What does the Bible have to say about Christian Business Owners interacting with those who hold political power?

One passage that speaks directly to this interaction is Proverbs 23.1-3:

1When you sit to dine with a ruler,

note well what is before you,

and put a knife to your throat

if you are given to gluttony.

Do not crave his delicacies,

for that food is deceptive.

These first three verses occur in a larger passage (1-8) where strong warnings against courting favor of the powerful, greed and intercourse with the envious are instructed. This warning is specifically about courting favor with the powerful. Even though in the preceeding verses (22.29) that those highly skilled in their professions would serve before the politically powerful, we are now instructed about the dangers of developing a relationship that is so close – so confidential – that we lose our respect and proper decorum to the point where they observe us immoderate, intemperate way.

Several thoughts from this passage. First, the ruler is not your equal and you are not his – at least from a civil, political perspective. Keep this in mind, the author is saying. Even if you do become good friends with the ruler, remember that you are sitting down to dine with a ruler more than a good friend.

Secondly, we are to note well what is before us. Rulers tend to eat well using fine cutlery with servants and chefs and so forth. Note well what is given to you. Most people don’t get this opportunity to eat such culinary delights, so take note of this. The trappings of power are intoxicating – note well what all this represents – an opportunity to have your deepest desires changed in an instant to what he has by virtue of his position. In essence, the temptation is that of coveting – wanting what he has when your station in life doesn’t afford you the same access to wealth and its’ perks.

Hence, thirdly, we are to put a knife to our throats if we are given to gluttony. The Hebrew word for “gluttony” literally means life, people, soul, breath. What the author is saying is that if you are mastered by your urges and appetites instead of being one with self-discipline and submission to God – if you are one given to satisfying your deepest needs even at the cost of giving up your core values and trading them for that which is fleeting – the delicacies and perks of the politically powerful – then put a knife to your throat and, metaphorically, kill yourself right now. Why? Because all of the ruler’s perks and wealth is nothing compared to what we have from God – righteousness, instruction, wisdom and so forth. And if we allow ourselves to be ruled by our appetites, our desires, our urges, then we’ll end up destroying ourselves, so the remedy must be strong: put a knife to your throat. Don’t give into the temptation to be taken in by the power and materialism of the ruling class.

Lastly, we are not to crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive. “Food is deceptive” is literally translated “bread of lies”. What is the lie? Well, two parts.

First, that dining with a ruler and receiving his favor today means that he won’t crush you tomorrow. Don’t be deceived. Rulers always act in their own self-interest and if you get in the way – even after long stretches of good relations with the ruler – he’ll crush you if needed to maintain his power and wealth. The second aspect of the lie is that you – not being equal to a ruler – can have all that he has through intimate association with him. Don’t give into this desire. In the end, you will be destroyed.

The reality is that Christian Business Owners do interact with the politically powerful from time to time. Some interact more frequently and intimately than others. The warning here is not that we should abstain from those interactions, but that we should recognize the inherent temptations to sin during those interactions. We should remember that our real home is not on this earth and that we should have an eternal perspective which gives us the basis for self-control and a reason to desire eternal, not temporal, things.

Bill English

Paying Close Attention

One of the characteristics of a failing business is that the leadership doesn’t really understand their numbers. They think they do – but they really don’t.

For example, one owner whose business grosses ~ $6M/year and manages to net less than $100K/year told me that he doesn’t need an accountant, a review or an audit. Why should he be told what happened over 3 months ago? When I looked at the information he gets on a weekly basis from his bookkeeper, it’s clear why he’s essentially breaking even: he doesn’t know:

  • His cash position
  • His account profits or losses
  • His break-even point
  • His profit/loss on operations
  • And more….

Yet, he’s managed to be in business for nearly 40 years.

Christian Business Owners will pay much more attention to their numbers than our friend who is barely breaking even. Not only is this good stewardship, but we are also commanded to do so. Consider Proverbs 27.23: “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” In this verse, we have a direct command to give close attention to the condition of that which provides economic resources for us. When we are business owners, we are without excuse if we don’t pay close attention to the business which God has entrusted to us. “It is only be care and diligence that the most solid possessions can be perpetuated.” (Jamison, Roberts and Brown commentary)

Consider also Proverbs 23.5: “Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” If we know that riches are fleeting and can be lost swiftly, why should we hasten this by not paying close attention to our businesses?

If you’re a Christian Business Owner, you have an obligation before the Lord – as part of your stewardship responsibilities – to know the numbers in your business. If you don’t know how to read an income statement, a balance sheet, calculate your break-even and so forth, then go get some training. There’s no excuse for not having intimate detailed knowledge about the numbers in your business.

Bill English

Excessive Loyalty in Business

Can loyalty in business be taken too far? You bet it can. We call it excessive loyalty.

Many small businesses – especially those run by Christians – view loyalty as a core value. Loyalty to family, vendors, partners, customers and even competitors can be found in most businesses today. But loyalty can be taken too far. Here’s an example:

Jim had been with his bank for 12 years. They had always been good to him and he was clearly loyal to his bank, believing he was receiving better service and outside-the-contract-flexibility on his Line of Credit (LOC) when he needed it. On a $32M business, he had a $4M LOC which capped the inventory valuation portion of the borrowing base at $2.5M, even thought, at times, his current inventory (which would turn in 90 days) could go as high as $7M. Jim’s business fell on hard times through no fault if his own and he found he needed a temporary increase in his LOC to $6.5M. His plan to profitability was both realistic and achievable. It was a good plan. He presented it to his bank. Not only did his bank refuse his request, they asked him to find financing elsewhere and informed him that his line would be called after six months. Jim was surprised. How could they treat him like this after 12 years of loyalty? He had never missed a payment (though his line had not rested in over 8 years) on either his LOC, his business mortgage or his personal mortgage. Jim was taken aback.

So Jim contacted some other banks who valued his inventory differently. They also were willing to give me 80% on his current A/R in his borrowing based where as his current bank was giving him credit for only 60%. Within week, Jim had several offers from other banks with lower rates, higher availability and lower personal guarantees than what he currently enjoyed with his bank. Clearly, Jim needed to change banks.

But Jim didn’t want to change banks. He felt that doing so would violate his core value of loyalty, so he got on the phone with his current bank and talked through a new deal which gave him $4.5M on his LOC at 3% higher than what the other banks were offering. He also agreed to sign personal guarantees that were 5x the amount the other banks were offering. But Jim was able to stay with his current bank and he felt good about his decision because he felt he had lived out his core value of loyalty.

What Jim doesn’t understand is that he was excessively loyal and that there would have been no value violation in changing banks.

Signs of Excessive Loyalty

What can we learn about excessive loyalty from Jim’s (true) story? What are the signs of excessive loyalty?

An Unexplainable Emotional Attachment

Jim wasn’t thinking with his head – he was thinking with his emotions. For some unexplainable reason, Jim needed to stay with his bank, so he willingly, knowingly took a deal that would cost him nearly $90K/year more in interest with the highest exposure to personal liability. This kind of behavior indicates that emotions are running the decision-making process, which rarely renders positive results. You’ll know you’ve hit this point when those outside your business look at the situation and simply ask “Why?”

Relationship Value is tilted in Favor of the Other Party

The deal that Jim struck was clearly in favor of the bank. The bank offered what it felt it could do given the increased risk they observed in Jim’s business. We think they were reading Jim’s business wrong as evidenced by other banks offering Jim much better terms. But whether they were right or wrong, they offered what was clearly in their favor. And they got the deal they wanted. They did not try to strike a “win-win” deal – they struck a “we-win-you-lose” deal. They knowingly did this.

Loyalty is a One-Way Street

When the bank thought that Jim’s business was deteriorating, they didn’t hesitate to restrict his LOC and ask him to find another bank. When a bank does this, it’s not about loyalty – it’s about the bank acting in their best interest. All this marketing today by banks about how they love your business and will be there with you through thick and thin is bogus. They will be with you and your business as long as you’re profitable and represent a low risk to them. Once your business represents a moderate or high risk to them, they will jettison you pretty quick. It’s not personal on their part – its’ just business.

The Way Out

The way out of Excessive Loyalty is to end the relationship. If, in the future, the relationship can be re-established on an even playing field, then fine. But given that Excessive Loyalty is primarily an emotional issue where one’s emotions have become out of balance with critical thinking, we think it best to simply end the relationship and move on.

Bill English

Cravings and Desires

As Christian Business Owners and as healthy human beings, we have certain cravings and desires. We want things to be a certain way and we often like to get our way.

Proverbs 10.3 says this: “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry but He thwarts the craving of the wicked.”

The Hebrew word for craving really refers to an evil desire – any desire that comes from evil motives or feelings. The wicked will have evil desires and the Lord will ensure their cravings are not satisfied.

You see, for the righteous, the Lord does not let us “go hungry” – not just that He ensure we have food to eat, but more that our deepest desires are satisfied. When we enter into a personal relationship with Christ and then submit to His will, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside, our desires change. We learn to desire His presence beyond nearly everything else. We still enjoy running our business and turning a profit, but we don’t need it as much as we need other things in life – things that money cannot buy.

Today, as you run your business – as you develop your plans – as you look to fulfill the four purposes of business which God has given to us – remember that when you walk with the Lord, your deepest desires and cravings will be satisfied. In this, you can rejoice because unlike your competitor who may not know the Lord, you will have a stability, calmness and focus that only God can provide as He first changes what we really desire and then satisfies the deep desires that He has placed within us.

Bill English

Why Business Owners Don’t Ask for Help

In a 2007 article published in the New York Times, Nora Klaver who wrote the book May Day! Asking for Help in Times of Need says that asking for help “makes business sense”.

Yet, it is rare that small business owners – especially family owned businesses – will admit that they need help, much less become proactive in asking for it.

(Each scenario listed here has been changed to mask the identity of the business, but the core problems have been reported accurately)

I was recently introduced to a $3M marketing agency that was owned by four siblings. One of them doesn’t work in the business at all and the other three are full-time in the business. The General Manger (who is the eldest) has been through alcohol rehab twice but continues to drink at the office. The next youngest brother, who runs the creating side of the marketing business was described to me as someone who never talks with his older brother and ignores whatever decisions the older brother makes. He focuses on getting great creativity out of his team, but with morale so low, that can be difficult. He’s also short-tempered, so in the last 18 months or so, he’s managed to alienate close to half of his team, who have left for greener pastures. The third sibling (their sister) is the CFO of the company. She “checked out” years ago, avoiding the persistent conflict and animosity between the brothers.

Another situation: Dad has built a very profitable niche business in a major metropolitan area. He has close to a monopoly on this particular line of business. Dad is older now and lives mostly in the warmer climates, enjoying retirement and the seemingly unending stream of cash available to him. His daughter now runs his company. She’s taken a liking to the Sales Manager and they are openly having an affair. Both are married. Their behavior in the office is that of two high school sophomores falling love for the first time. Others find it both repugnant and offensive. I’m told many are planning to leave soon.

And another situation: Dad is in his 70’s and has had a rather strong, opinionated woman as his “right hand-man” for over 30 years. Dad is a literal genius at what he does – solving difficult mechanical problems for customers. But he lacks interpersonal fortitude to discipline anyone – include his two sons. The woman basically runs the company, deciding what information should and should not be shared with Dad. He has expressed interest in working with a consultant to help him develop a succession plan, but consulting companies have found that contracts never get signed, appointments are post phoned, and advice is ignored because this woman doesn’t want anything to change until she is ready to retire. She “protects” Dad from anything “stressful”. Oh, and did I mention that the boys don’t want the business even though they work in it?

Now, in any one of these situations, one would think they would reach out and ask for help. But all of them have been approached and none of them want help. Common among all their answers are these threads:

  1. We don’t need any help – “we’ve got it covered”. It really doesn’t matter what “it” is, they’ve got it covered. No problems here. Nothing to see, Mr. Consultant. Time for you to move on.
  2. “We can’t afford it”. Never mind that two of the three businesses above are facing serious financial stress. They have convinced themselves that there are financially stable.
  3. “If it gets any worse, we’ll call you”. Think about the frog in the frying pan. ‘Nuff said.

Here’s what I think is really going on:

  1. They are afraid to face the truth. They don’t want to open the preverbal “can of worms” because, deep down, they really do know just how bad things are and it’s easier to avoid than it is to face the truth. Once the can is opened, it can’t be sealed up again.
  2. They are embarrassed to admit the truth. They don’t see themselves as being unable to have a happy family and a healthy business without outside assistance, so if others were to find out about their problems, it would pose an immense embarrassment for them
  3. They are too proud to ask for help. Their attempts at perseverance usually do little more than enable the problems to continue, but persevering under hellish conditions feeds their personal pride that they can muscle through it all and keep a smile on their face. Is this what they really want?

Fear. Embarrassment. Pride. This is why people don’t ask for help. This is why family-run businesses fail too.

Bill English
Executive Consultant
The Platinum Group

You can reach Bill at bill.english @ theplatinumgrp.com

The Emotional Price Owners Pay When Their Business is Failing

No one said building a company is easy. But small business owners find it difficult to be honest about how brutal it really can be and the emotional price so many of them secretly pay.

At one time or another most small business owners will find themselves on the brink of financial ruin. During these times, what they won’t tell you is that they’re also on the brink of mental and emotional collapse.

Their calm demeanor will mask their secret emotions. They may look fine on the outside, but on the inside they are an emotional wreck. You’ll often hear small business owners describe waking up at night staring at the ceiling, with their mind racing, thinking about this or that and not being able to shut it off. They wonder “when is this thing going to turn around?” They will live with constant anxiety and sometimes may have panic attacks when they are by themselves. Some call this entrepreneurial terror, which is an all-encompassing dread that comes from nowhere. You feel like you’re looking into the abyss and there’s nothing to prevent you from falling headfirst into it. You scream soundlessly and no one can hear.

Over time, the experience of these private emotions can lead to despair. Small business owners, by their very position, need to be positive and upbeat in order to grow their business. This requires of the business owner an impressive ability to repress and compartmentalize their emotions. It’s both a necessary skill and a hazard of the job. The compartmentalization of their emotions also gives them relief, even if temporary, from the anxieties, fears, and pressures of their business, but the compartmentalization does nothing positive for them in the long run. In a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” business culture, admitting that you struggle with strong, negative emotions is like admitting that you can’t reach your bootstraps. It’s just assumed that successful people will just “shake it off” and move on toward success.

No one ever tells the business owner that the marketplace can be a very unfriendly environment in which to start a business. They don’t always tell you that doing specialized work and operating a business that does specialized work are as different as night and day. Entrepreneurs who are highly skilled in a particular area and end up starting their own business are often not told that they must understand numbers in order to run their business successfully. They also don’t realize that they have to sell, even if they never see themselves as being salesmen. They’re never told that nobody really cares about their business. And to top it off, they’re never told that their ability to convince others is critical to their success. Relationships really matter in business, and yet it is relationships that are most damaged when a small business owners’ emotions are tightly controlled and compartmentalized. No matter how much a small business owner tries to repress and compartmentalize their emotions, the emotions will come out for everyone to see. As one small business owner told me as I was thinking of starting my own business, “your heart will be laid bare for everyone to see.” He was right.

Distressed business owners will have an impressive capacity to absorb their internal struggles without telling anyone about them. In extreme cases, death will feel like a better option than living. For others, the embarrassment of failure coupled with the knowledge that your best simply wasn’t good enough will drive them to a lower self-esteem and a depression that may last for some time. When we are successful in our work we feel invigorated, purposeful, dignified, and needed. When we fail in our work we feel drained, embarrassed, insignificant, unimportant, empty, discouraged, disheartened and unneeded.

When a small business is failing

Small business owners don’t always know the point at which they moved from creating profit to creating loss. They certainly won’t depend on their emotions to tell them. Most non-owners assume that small business owners persist in their business because the business is performing well enough to create a profit for them. Most also assumed that the business owner would exit the market and shut down the business if current losses exceed the present value of the expected profits. What folks fail to realize is that the accounting practices of most small business owners are such that they may not be immediately aware of the point in time when the company becomes failing. This point is supported by numerous bankruptcy prediction models which provide performance thresholds that once breached, indicate that failure is highly probable if not inevitable. Many also assume that once small business owners realize their businesses will fail that they immediately take action to terminate their business. These assumptions are not always correct.

Christian small business owners hang onto longer than they should often because they have a strong sense of a moral obligation to pay their vendors 100 cents on the dollar. They understand that if they close their business, that they will end up not honoring all of their financial commitments and this is an anathema to them personally. So they figure the best way to get their debts paid off is to keep whatever revenue generating engine they have in their business, cut expenses and try to turbocharge the revenue generation side to create enough cash flow to pay off their business debts.

But the cost of closing down a business is much more than simply paying off current payables. Longer-term contracts, such as lease agreements or phone systems, can be difficult to escape. So even though staying in the business is emotionally unattractive to the small business owner, the moral obligation they feel to not “shaft” anyone may drive much of their decision-making about how long they persist in their failing business rather than the emotions that they are feeling. Remember they’re good at compartmentalizing and repressing their emotions, so their decisions, in an odd way, make sense.

Small business owners may also stay in the business too long because they just can’t bring themselves to admit that their source of livelihood is going away. “What will I do?” is a thought that will run through their minds repeatedly. If they are true entrepreneurs, they’ll have a very hard time conceptualizing the thought of working for someone else. And yet starting another business may not be all that attractive to them either. So they stay in a failing business because the alternatives are not much better from their viewpoint.

Managing your emotions during the downturn

There are things that small business owners can do to manage their emotions when their business is failing. First, the most important thing is to take time for the ones you love and to take time to connect with God every day. As a Christian business owner, if you are harboring sin, you can be sure that God will not bless your business. This is why confessing and repenting of your sin on a regular basis is so important to ensuring that the enemy does not have a foothold in your life and your business to cause destruction.

Secondly, you should not be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to see a mental health professional or a medical doctor for some antidepressant medication or attendance at CEO and business leader groups or even just grabbing a cup of coffee with a close friend.

Thirdly, your natural tendency will be to work harder and harder and harder to turn your business around. This is the wrong thing to do. Maintaining balance in your life and surrounding yourself with good advisors will enable you to live your life even when your business is failing. Maintaining balance includes taking digital sabbaticals every week where you do not check email or voicemail’s or Facebook or foursquare or any other social media.

Fourthly, limit your financial exposure in the business. This will be a blind spot for you so you will need an advisor to help you assess. Set a limit for how much of your own money you’re prepared to lose, and don’t let friends and family kick in more money than they can afford to lose.

Finally, stay focused on what you can do right now to improve your situation. Focus on doing the small things well and find pride and satisfaction in them. Don’t brood over the big picture of how poorly your business is doing. For sure, you need to embrace your situation and the unvarnished truth. But most of your focus should not be on worrying about the big picture and all the “what if’s” that could happen. Instead, your focus should be on doing what you can to embrace change and positive actions that will increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Reframing failure and loss and learning from it

The ability to refrain failure and loss can also help small business owners maintain good mental health. You’ll be tempted to tell yourself, “I failed, I’m a loser.” But if you look at it from a different perspective, you’ll realize that “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a motto that nearly everyone understands.

Sometimes a business owners’ grief in their business interferes with the ability to learn from their experiences. Researchers found that using a dual process of grief recovery emotions can be managed in a way that minimizes interference and maximizes learning. Specifically, business owner should oscillate between a loss orientation process and a restoration orientation set to best use negative emotions to focus their attention on the event will simultaneously and allowing the cotton in the kitchen. Given a small business owners’ propensity for repression and compartmentalization, having them feel their grief may be a challenge.

Businesses fail for any number of reasons. Some of fail due to a change in laws, regulations or industry technologies that the business is simply not able to adapt to. Other businesses change due to a discontinuity of ownership. Sometimes the performance of the owner himself is so poor that the business fails. The reason that a small business owner experiences failure has a direct impact on the magnitude of his emotions. For example, if the failure is due to a sudden change in industry technology that the small business owner simply does not have the financial capacity to adapt to, then there is a sense in which the owner can shift the blame away from himself and onto the technology change. The owner “saves face”. But if, all things being equal, the business should have survived and thrived and yet it still failed, then the owner has no one to blame but himself. This increases the magnitude of the negative emotions that the business owner feels.

At a minimum failure is likely to impose a financial cost on the business owner in the form of a loss of or reduction in personal income. While a degree of financial cost is to be expected following failure, an interesting issue relates to how business owners manage or absorb these costs. For many business owners, financial cost may take the form of personal debt that takes years to clear out. If the business owner has a portfolio of other businesses, the cost may be transferred and absorbed by the other businesses which are profitable and ongoing.

Often, failure will lead to social costs in relation to its impact on personal and professional relationships for the business owner. Not only is the owners’ marriage affected (see below), but professional and social relationships may be damaged as well.

Business owners can learn from the failures if they have the opportunity to use the information about why the business failed to revise their existing knowledge of how to effectively manage their own businesses. This knowledge often relates to one’s self as an entrepreneur, manager, and leader; issue surrounding the management of cash investment; managing internal and external stakeholder relationships; building and managing partnerships; managing the challenges of growth and understanding the marketplace and competition.

You might be surprised to learn the research shows that many business owners who have experienced business failure not only develop strong intentions to start subsequent businesses but they actually do so. If a key benefit of failure is that it provides a learning opportunity, then we might expect subsequent businesses owned by business owners who have experienced failure to perform better. Unfortunately, there is an absence of research testing this hypothesis. But some research shows that there is no qualitative difference between businesses that are run by owners who have never failed business and those who have failed business. This pessimistic view of a business owner’s ability to learn from his mistakes is not encouraging. This means it is likely that the owner will make similar mistakes and his subsequent business and may continue to repress and compartmentalize his emotions instead of managing his emotions in a healthier manner.

Marriage and a failing business

As a business is failing, the small business owners’ belief in himself alters and sometimes even shatters. But so can many of his relationships. He’ll feel responsible for everyone: his employees, the lenders to whom he owes money, the investors who bet on his idea, and for sure himself and his family. The small business owner might even realize that he has reset his family’s fortunes back to square one, they might be at square -1 million.

In all of this, the spouses expected to remain strong and encouraging. If their marriage is healthy, she’ll try to channel her emotions into pragmatism. If the marriage is shaky, then all those recriminations built up over the years of scrimping and postponing and single parenting will come gushing out in a rather ugly and difficult-to-repair way. A failed business may consume a couple’s assets until there’s nothing left. It may do the same for their love for each other.

We need to understand that the spouse experiences the failure of the business differently than the small business owner. The small business owner may regret his mistakes but his spouse is left wondering “was all that sacrifice really for nothing?” While it’s great to hear his spouse’s reassurance: “you did the best you could.”, sometimes the spouse can only blather, “How could you?”

The anger and hurt that a spouse feels will contribute to the compartmentalization, repression, and loneliness that the small business owner feels when the business fail. Left to mourn largely on his own, a spouse may keep herself at arms-length from the small business owner both emotionally and physically. This does not contribute to a healthy grieving process for both of them. And it does not contribute to using the failure as an opportunity to strengthen their marriage.

The time it takes for a couple to rebound is largely a function of the owners’ resiliency. Some small business owners are drawing up a new business plan within days after the failure is finalized. Others are paralyzed to the point where they can’t even go out and look for work, which only contributes to the negative emotions of their business failure.

When a small business is successful in providing steady income to the small business owner, there is a sense of security and stability for the foreseeable future. But when the small business fails, the solid ground upon which the owner and his wife were standing can swiftly vanish. The downsizing of lifestyle and the loss of perks can tear at the fabric of a marriage as well as a spouse’s identity. Her position in her community as well as her security crumbles along with the business. Both will find their friends and relatives avoiding the subject of their failed business, treating it like a serious medical condition that everyone is aware of but too diplomatic to acknowledge. This will take its’ toll on their marriage if they ignore these factors. It’s best for their marriage if they can discuss what’s really going one without being critical or angry with each other.

In conclusion

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And the experience of a failed business is also a terrible thing to waste. God can use that experience in our lives to make us better people and better business owners for the future. He can take that which Satan intended for evil and turn it into good for his kingdom, his purposes and his church.

Recall Ephesians 2.10: “for we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” There is no experience that is wasted by God in our lives. Every trial and every experience is to be stewarded for his glory. If you are to be given $1 million you would ask yourself the question, “how should I stewarded this million dollars for the Lord?” By the same token, when God gives us significant sufferings, we are to steward those for his glory as well.

If you have a failed business in your rear view mirror, be sure to take time to reflect on what you learned about yourself, your capacity to lead, and your abilities to successfully manage process and people. In addition learn about God and his graciousness and how he has brought you through that failed business experience. You might find that you have greater trust in the Lord, greater empathy for those going through difficult times, or an even greater sense of giving to those who are in need. You may be able to identify with Paul when he said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4.11-13)

Use that which God has given you and has built into you to minister to those who are starting businesses and who need your wisdom and guidance to avoid the mistakes that you made. Become integrated emotionally and learned that your real strength as a business owner comes not from compartmentalization and repression, but from appropriate experience and expression of your emotions – both toward God and your fellow man. You’ll find that the emotional roll-a-coaster you were once on as a business owner will flatten out as you take the natural emotions that are inherent in running a business, submit them to God, experience them appropriately and learn to express them to those around you who are supporting you.

Bill English

If you’re a business owner and your business is not thriving, give Bill a call today. 763-458-3722.

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