Business Imprisonment and Owner Mindset


Do you feel trapped in your business or leadership role? Do you feel, at times, that there is no “way out” or that there’s no one else who can help you? There’s a name for this (business imprisonment) and it’s curable.

Here’s what we often hear. Someone started a business or took a leadership role years ago. The business has been built over several years to become what it is today. It’s successful. Now where does it go? Can you keep the wins coming? Emotions are high. You’re stressed all of the time, you don’t have enough time in the day or week and balls are getting dropped.

Here’s a fact based on stats. Entrepreneurs experience more anxiety than employees. A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey shows 34% of entrepreneurs—4% points more than other workers--report they are worried. And 45% of entrepreneurs said they are stressed, 3% points more than other workers.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While there’s no quick way out, you can quit digging a deeper hole by putting down the shovel and changing your leadership mindset. It takes determination and time. Here are a few thoughts and tools to consider if you’re reading this thinking: this is me.

You’re not alone. Many, many business owners and leaders find themselves in this state. It’s a common problem among specialists or technicians who know a lot about a particular craft, skill or specialty. They know their business, but they don’t necessarily know how to keep from being the sole expert in their business by letting go and letting others help the business succeed. This is the key challenge – to either not become the sole expert of the business or, if you find yourself in this position, figuring out how to stop being the sole expert in your business. 

Know the symptoms. Business leaders who are suffering business imprisonment say things like this:

  • “No one can do this the way I do it.”
  • “I don’t trust anyone to give customers quotes because they may get it wrong. I’ll lose money on the deal”
  • “Just give it to me. I’ll take care of it.”
  • “Sometimes I just have to do it myself!” (My favorite!)

Stop digging and start dreaming. If you hear yourself saying these phrases, stop-look-listen. Just becoming aware that you may be suffering from business imprisonment is a great place to start. Stop by checking yourself: start today. Look at your to-do list: are the to-dos things you should be doing? Listen to the words you say to your team: do they sound like the bullets above?

Now reflect and dream. Once you identify you’re suffering the symptoms, start changing things by finding a quiet space and time. Use it to reflect, plan and truly think. Start with an hour a week. And start now. If you don’t do it now, when? You’re smart, you own a business and people count on you. Dream about what comes next.

Consider ideas and implementation. Use this time to think about your business as a separate entity and a machine. What are its inputs, what makes it work, what spits out at the end? Think in terms of process. Once you’ve done this for a while, prioritization of things will be your next challenge. Everything is not important or urgent. Every customer is not the same. Every task is not worth your time to spend time on. 

Finally, start thinking about optimization … of your time, the business process, the steps involved from start to finish. I guarantee there is waste in every part of your day, your business, your process. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Every business and owner has waste. But not every business and owner deals with it.

Be the leader you are. Now that you have made this time available, first and foremost, act like the CEO that you are. Big or small, every business has a CEO. Yes, you may have other roles, but your foremost role is to be the CEO of your business. If not, you’re an employee. And your employees need you to lead them to the next phase of your company’s evolution. Share your vision and ideas.

Your role as CEO of your business is to find that waste and eliminate it and make things simpler. This may not be comfortable, and it may actually totally change your business model. But which business model grows and scales? One that’s simple. The more complex, the harder it is to grow.

Finally, we all tell our team members, if you need help ask for it. So, remember: If you need help, ask for it!

Bob Paden is owner of The Growth Coach Indianapolis North, business growth and sales coaching company focused on helping clients earn more, work less and enjoy richer lives.

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