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3 Biggest Lies Small Business Owners Tell Themselves

Some of the mightiest undertakings in business are done in the name of success. Leaders picture themselves moving mountains just to make things work, then stun naysayers once it happens.

But chief among those flights of fantasy, and one that tends to result in failure, is owning up to the truth. Cognitive dissonance is challenging; reality is seldom welcoming (even if it is rewarding).

Here are the 3 most common lies small business owners tell themselves, and how to break away from this habit simply by opening your eyes.

1. Things Will Improve When Market Conditions Change

It’s easy to assume that a business’ shortcomings are just a product of its circumstances. Markets are unknowable, which means a company’s setbacks are part of a passing storm.


The mentality of a business being dependent on external factors ignores a leader’s autonomy: There are always opportunities to market and sell something of value to someone else.

Markets are reliably volatile. In fact, many great companies were founded when the economy was lousy. Consider the more than half of Fortune 500 companies in 2009 that began during a recession or a bear market.

Excuses are easy. Accepting there are things within your control is harder. But that also tends to mean they’re more important and you should confront them head-on.

2. My Employees Will Change Their Behavior

You can’t change anyone’s behavior but your own. It’s one of the most elusive ideas business leaders encounter, particularly when their employees aren’t cutting the mustard.

Is your staff coming in late because they’re lazy? Or is it because you aren’t setting clear guidelines and holding them accountable when they arrive at 9:30?

Does a bickering staff mean they don’t play well together? Or does it mean you’ve failed to demonstrate and reward effective teamwork?

Conquering these obstacles sticks to a fairly conventional piece of wisdom: “Employees will change once I figure them out.”

While this line of thinking may yield short-term gains, fear-based modes of control can’t help but produce a resentful staff, that doesn’t respect you, in the long run.

The lesson here is to communicate clearly and effectively your vision and goals for your employees so that they are inspired to follow along. Trying to force a square peg into a round hole only ends in failure for both sides.

3. My Employees Will Know What I Want

Even if you’re the type of head honcho that is open about your personality and duties, your employees still can’t read your mind. You must speak your mind, and do so explicitly.

Effecting any sort of meaningful change in employee behavior or company direction begins with clear expectations. Take a page from the field of medicine: prevention is always more desirable than treatment. Explain what a successful outcome looks like and define the timeline to get there.

Then, monitor these checkpoints of intermediary success and convey them to your team. It’s important to keep in mind how often you’re exporting the thoughts in your head to the employees who do most of the work. The direction they head in can only be informed from the info they get from the top. (That’s you.)

So check your progress and improve the next time around. Even if you fail, you and your employees will know why. Which means you can build and rebuild, and everyone will be happier.

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About the author, David Shriner-Cahn

David is the podcast host and community builder behind Smashing the Plateau, an online platform offering resources, accountability, and camaraderie to high-performing professionals who are making the leap from the corporate career track to entrepreneurial business ownership.

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