The Biggest Mistake I Made in Business

By: Laurie Gerber

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When I first came to Handel Group as a client, many years back, my chief complaint was that my business had plateaued.

Coming off of great success the prior year, my business partner (slash twin brother!) and I had decided that we could take on a new hire. Previously, I had been doing all the sales and customer service — matching prospective students with tutors and closing deals — but, in the new plan, our new hire would take over those responsibilities so I could focus on business development and partnerships.

I spent a great deal of time training this new hire, “Nancy,” overseeing her, correcting her mistakes, and (if I am being honest) criticizing her and making her feel bad. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that surprising that soon after, the business hit a plateau.

My coach asked me to explain this turn of events we called “the plateau.” My response: It had all started with hiring Nancy.

You see, I had a theory that a non-owner could never care as much about the business as I did. This is where my coach smelled a rat! She decided that I needed to inspect “the mystery of the business slump.”

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She tasked me with proving my theory correct with numbers and figure out what exactly Nancy’s “closing rate” was for customers who called in vs. mine — when it had been my job.

I was surprised by the facts (my coach? Not so much): Our stats were almost exactly the same. Uh oh.

What then did this suggest? You may have guessed — something else was slowing down our growth. It didn’t take long for her to remind me that there was one other factor besides sales that builds a business: business development, the very thing upon which I had agreed to focus and then shortly thereafter bailed. Worse, I was using the need to constantly train Nancy as my excuse. Pretty convenient for my inner chicken, right?

The real truth was that it was my job to go out and make new connections and find new business opportunities, and I found that pretty scary, so I subconsciously and consciously created a diversion and a narrative that could easily cover up my failure. Yikes!

Fast-forward through the wonders of coaching — I brought resolution to this. I admitted everything to my brother and Nancy and quit nagging her all the time (a huge relief to all!) Then, I made a simple promise to fulfill my business development role — to make two outreach calls a day, before noon. Of course, I put in the following consequence: If I didn’t do my calls, I would lose my fun TV veg time at night.

Amazing how that one simple promise changed everything! Because it was in alignment with what I knew was right. Not only did it lead to more business, but perhaps more importantly, it led to a great deal more self-respect and confidence, not to mention harmony in the workplace.

Note that I chose to do my promise in the morning. That was for the extra kick of mojo it gave me to be brave early in the day.

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I wish I could tell you that was the last of this type of occurrence, me pretending it wasn’t my fault, placing blame on others, and shirking responsibility, but it wasn’t. Even in my current work as an executive with Handel Group, I’ve had to own up to similar behavior. Because life is funny-repetitive this way, the dynamic was always the same.

Once again, I found myself the manager of a salesperson who, according to me (cough, cough), just “couldn’t get anything right.” She was always there for me to blame. And it was always a diversion to take the attention off of the things I was afraid of or didn’t want to be accountable for. Good old chicken and brat.

At Handel Group, we call these incidents “hauntings.” They often reflect themes throughout a person’s life. One of my most salient themes through my whole life is pretending to be a victim, when in fact, I am the one victimizing, criticizing, and blaming others.

This isn’t just in my career, either. Heck, I even blamed that same twin brother for not getting the food “I needed” in the womb. Umm, I turned out perfectly nourished, but still enjoy the excuse to be selfish about sharing my food to this day!

This realization about my bait-and-switch capabilities was a tough pill to swallow until I understood that in order to be powerful in my life and as a business person, leader, and co-worker, I had to own all of what I am capable of. If I can own the dark side of my power, I can fully own all the good stuff, too. There cannot be one without the other.

Owning all of my power gives me the chance to take back the narrative and author my own triumph over my fears, hauntings, and bad traits. We all have them — it’s just a question of what we’re going to do with them.

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Laurie Gerber is a Life Coach and Executive Coach at Handel Group. For the last fifteen years, she has taught and coached adults and children through lectures, discussion groups, seminars, classroom teaching, tutoring, and one-on-one coaching.

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