My team took a consultant's report very personally and couldn't focus on improvement

In my corporate life we used consultants. I always felt they told me what I already knew but they provided authority and helped with politics. They were also expensive

When I started my business, I vowed not to use consultants but we didn’t have a lot of bandwidth and needed to do some process mapping of our logistics as we grew.

I decided not to use a firm and found a local person with an MBA who was a logistic specialist. I briefed her and she started her assignment.

She presented her report to our senior team. What she showed was that we weren’t communicating with one another and that the systems had big holes in them. We had too many manual interventions and the data entry was inaccurate.

My reaction was this was great as these were easy problems to fix. Dealing with these issues would improve productivity and customer service.

The reaction from our team was quite different. Team members started to blame one another and everyone was critical of the IT people. Tempers flared. I tried to calm everyone down and show them that this was good news as we could easily fix everything. It didn’t matter of who was at fault; it was an issue of growing pains that needed to be dealt with.

The fact that all of this became interpersonal was unsettling for me. I had a lot of work to do to bring this team together.

I'm a terrible leader

John came in and I could tell right away something was wrong because his head was down and he was not standing up straight. He was reluctant to talk when I asked what was wrong, but eventually told me we lost all our shelf space at the XYZ chain of stores. Our competitors now have that space. He said the competitors offered the buyer a better deal and extended payment terms.

When I asked why no one told me, he said because everyone knows I don’t like to hear bad news and will yell at the person who tells me something I don’t like. I started yelling at them immediately, telling them what idiots they are and that they should have told me. There was nothing to do now and I have would have to fire people. By not telling me, they hurt the business. I spend every waking hour doing things for them and they betrayed me.

I couldn't do it all myself but I couldn't give up any control

I am alone and do nothing but work. To save money, I moved back home and feel like a child again. I fight to get out of bed everyday because the amount of things I have to do is overwhelming. My sales were over $150K, but I don’t want to hire anyone else; no one could do things better than me.

As sales continued to grow, I simply couldn’t cope. I hired a fulfillment company to handle the packaging and delivery. I visited them twice a week. Sales were then over $225k and I couldn’t keep track of everything. My accounts were months behind and emails went unanswered, so I decided to hire a part-time assistant.

She was a new mom so it could have been ideal. As soon as we started working together, I became critical of almost everything she was doing. I didn’t want to do things her way and I told her so. Sometimes she was late for meetings and sometimes she did things without asking me first. After six months, she quit. She felt she could never do anything right and that I didn’t trust her.

By this time, sales had grown again, invoices were in boxes, and it took me a week to fulfill an order. The website looked old and I had to update the product catalogue at least once a week as items sold out. This month, 35% of the products have a “sold out” tag on them.

My parents suggested I move out and that I needed an office.  I found a place that was big enough to act as an office and to live in. I moved all my things there.

I tried to hire someone to work with me but couldn’t find anyone good enough. Some people didn’t want to work where I lived. Others wanted too much money. I needed help but I also couldn’t let go. I had to control everything.

The business was in chaos and service levels were really poor. The repeat purchases began to fall away. For the first time in three years sales stopped growing. I had become the problem.

A trusted advisor told me I wasn't a strong leader and needed better people

I’ve been turned down by eight potential investors. It is me or the business? I was getting depressed and thought I should stop. I didn’t know how to make sense of what was happening to me. The investors were so aggressive. They wanted me to make mistakes. They just seem like nasty people.

My sister’s husband is an investor and I went to get his advice. He said it was part of the game to ask hard questions. Investors also want to see how you stood up to stress and adversity. He said he would come to our office to meet the team. When he came to see us he asked everyone questions about the business. He asked for data on customers and competitors.

At the end of the day, we sat down together to review his day. He said he wasn’t impressed by the team or their knowledge of the business and the market. He thought they were all nice people but didn’t have the skills to grow the business. Few understood the business model. Above all, he said they lack passion for the business. Then he said it was my fault for choosing weak people and not educating or communicating with them. Great leaders hire great people. Good entrepreneurs hire people that can scale the company to new levels.

He then asked me about the business plan. He listened to my answers then said I didn’t understand the business and couldn’t explain the operations or its economics in simple terms. He said he wouldn’t invest in me or my business because I couldn’t determine the size of the addressable market, the intensity of competition, or how to differentiate ourselves.

He told me this was real life, not a business plan competition. He said in order to be successful, I need better people, a stronger board, and better results. He said no one would invest in me or the business if I didn’t make these changes.

The feedback from my team's performance reviews floored me

Even though we’re only two years old, I started having performance reviews for my team. We talk all the time so I didn’t think it was going to be a major event. I found an appraisal form online and sent it to everyone. It asked for everyone’s input so I thought it would be a good idea.

When I got the forms back from the team, I was upset and concerned by what I read. Everyone said I was a poor and weak leader. They also said I couldn’t make decisions and they didn’t trust me. Finally, everyone said if they were offered another job, they would take it.

This was the first time I heard any of this. Why didn’t people tell me this? I had never been a manager let alone a CEO, so I had no idea whether I was doing a good or bad job.  They must have been discussing this behind my back for some time and used this as a way to give me feedback. I was so upset that I didn’t want to come into the office and I certainly didn’t want to carry out the individual reviews.

Business is for real men

This is my company and my money and I will do what I want. I don’t need Board members and investors telling me what to do. If they don’t like what I’m doing they can leave. I don’t believe in democracy and voting in business. It slows things down and causes confusion. 

The same applies to anyone who works for me. My staff do what they’re told. They can’t question or challenge me. I know what’s best. I got us to where we are. Working for me is simple. Get the work done on time and under budget. I pay better than other companies if my employees perform well. If they don’t do it right, they get fired.

I don’t believe in training and all that soft development stuff. Business is for real men. It’s war.

It seemed like an advisor wanted to take over the business

Andrew has always been my advisor and friend. He had a long career in business and retired three years ago. He seemed to enjoy helping us and always had good advice. He was on the board of several companies and also travelled a lot. But, one day he said he would like to be more involved in the business. He had some free time and wanted to help us.

Andrew started coming into the office three days a week. He spent a lot of time to talking to everyone and began to get involved in day-to-day decision-making. He wanted a desk in the office. He had business cards printed showing him as an Advisor to our business.

One day Andrew sat down and said he wanted to join the Board. What he said that day and the way that he said it scared me. He seemed to me he wanted to run the business, to take it over.

I talked to other people in the team and they said Andrew was questioning my ability to run the business. He was inserting himself in the day-to-day operations. Everyone said they felt uncomfortable around him. Some said he was just bored and wanted to get back into the action. Rather that offering Andrew a Board seat, I asked him not to come into the company any more. We appreciated his contribution but we were growing up. Andrew was shocked and very angry. He walked out the door and I never saw him again.

My co-founder was arrested for drunk driving for the fourth time. What can I do?

This was the fourth time my co-founder was arrested for drunk driving. This time his license was taken away and his picture was in the local paper. He was responsible for sales and this meant he did a lot of entertaining and tended to drink too much. We discussed this many times and each time he promised to stop. I am now at the stage where I don’t trust him any more.

There are only two of us on the Board, but I had our lawyer write him a letter saying any repetition of this behavior would result in instant dismissal and forfeiture of all his stock options and incentives. We barely talk to each other now but what else could I have done?

My staff were hiding the poor customer feedback from me

We started getting customer feedback by putting cards in the product and calling them directly. The feedback wasn’t good. People said the product didn’t live up to their expectations. They said customer service was poor and it often took a week to get a reply. Some said our staff were rude. The phone survey and the cards showed the same pattern.

The team questioned the research method. They said they didn’t get any complaints, that they reviewed every customer letter and monitored response times. I decided to do two things: read all the comment cards and call customers myself. What I read and heard was deeply disturbing. My team wasn’t telling me the truth. They were hiding real problems we had with our customers.

I gathered everyone together and told them what I found. I told them that from now on every problem should be brought to my attention. I also told them every product would have a survey card with my name and telephone number on it so that I would know what was really going on. If we start a company based on hiding data, rejecting market feedback, and ignoring facts, our business is doomed.

Even though I started the company, maybe I'm not cut out to be a manager

Managing a team is a pain in the ass. Everyone is so self-centered and needy. It takes all the energy out of me. As the company grows it is becoming more difficult to get people to work together. Why should I be spending my time on this? I should be out getting more business.

Yesterday a team member resigned. She was the first person to leave the company. She said it had nothing to do with money or status. She loved the product couldn’t work with a dysfunctional team and leader.

It wasn’t fun to come to work. There was no clear direction. Priorities changed day-to-day and people didn’t support one another. She looked me straight in the eyes and said there is no leadership. She told me I was in over my head and didn’t realize it.

Did I know, she asked, that I had not spoken to her in three months and there are only 15 people in the company? Did I know her mother had died? Did I care? I told her this was not intentional and I was sorry. She said that was the problem.