Do You Expect Yourself to Work Like a Small Business Superhero?
Is expecting yourself to work like a Small Business superhero really beneficial for you and your clients?
The days before the internet and PC are a fading memory for most of us, if we’re old enough to remember at all. The thought of typing documents with a typewriter and then retyping them because we’ve made a mistake, manually adding up numbers on a paper spreadsheet, or spending long hours fixing technical drawings – using tracing paper, technical ink pens and Gillette blades – sounds like a bad joke.
Over the past decades, work has already gone through previously unimaginable transformations, and this change continues as technologies evolve along with customers’ needs and expectations.
Without clairvoyant powers, it’s difficult to envision what our business will look like in say, 5 to 10 years, and what we will actually be doing. But the trends are clear: we are doing fewer and fewer repetitive and routine tasks that can be completed by machines, and more and more activities that require artistry, creative thinking and people skills.
In order to remain efficient and competitive, we need to leverage the types of intelligence that machines can’t possess.
You get the picture. You can’t look around in a bookshop or attend a business conference these days without being bombarded with words like ‘human’, ‘vulnerability’, ‘authenticity’, ‘emotion’ or ‘connection’.
As a business owner, you need to know that people are complicated creatures with many idiosyncrasies, conflicts and flaws, and you’d better embrace this fact if you want to earn anyone’s trust and change their lives for the better.
Yet, we expect a lot from ourselves.
How much easier it is to accept others for who they are as opposed to accepting ourselves with all our physical and emotional needs, limitations and (perceived) weaknesses. How convenient it is to look outside of ourselves and then try to be smart, understanding and supportive.
Yes, work has been changing at a rapid rate, but our expectations of ourselves haven’t changed that much since the times when we actually had to work like machines.
As business owners and entrepreneurs, although we keep tackling one challenge after the other, expecting ourselves to work like a Small Business Superhero, we can still be pretty hard on ourselves when we notice a lapse in our energy and focus, make some mistakes and fail to progress with our tasks as planned.
We often treat ourselves in ways we would never treat others and believe that we’re doing the right thing.
Why is this a problem? Risking burnout and damage to our physical and mental health is only part of the issue. When we push ourselves mercilessly, ignoring our personal needs, our productivity also suffers. We tend to think less intelligently and creatively and make more mistakes and poor decisions.
These are well-researched and frequently discussed problems; however, one issue which I find especially intriguing isn’t getting much air-time. By working through thick and thin like a Small Business superhero, we might be distancing ourselves from the very people we’re trying to serve.
We see others through our own lens.
We are all empathetic beings by nature – irrespective of whether or not you have an empathetic personality. When you connect with someone whose experiences, thoughts and feelings seem familiar to you from your own life, it shouldn’t take long before you get a good grasp of what they’re going through and the sort of help they need.
On the other hand, when a person you’re trying to engage with is in a vastly different frame of mind than you, they will remain strangers to you. You could spend hours or days learning about them, and you still won’t truly be able to relate.
You might be able to methodically decipher their problems and needs, and come up with some sort of an answer with the help of thorough analysis, but will that be the best solution for them? And will they have an amazing experience working with you?
I suggest that you answer these questions for yourself, taking into account what you know about your business, industry and clients. But let me share with you some of my observations and experiences.
Small Business Superheroes live in a whole different universe.
My job as a workplace design consultant involves deep conversations with business leaders and employees, creative sessions, as well as long hours doing research, analysing data and writing reports. And like most of us in business, at times I also need to perform small miracles to meet demands and deadlines.
How am I trying to achieve the seemingly unachievable? Well, sometimes I work around the clock, ticking off tasks like there’s no tomorrow, determined to redefine what’s humanly possible. I forget about breaks and weekends, thinking, ‘I will eat properly, exercise and rest later’.
I’m proud of the fact that I tend to meet deadlines. However, I recently started to question if I’m actually serving my clients the best I can when I take on the persona of a Small Business superhero.
In that headspace, I find it rather difficult to empathise with their human needs and vulnerabilities. Moreover, they probably also find it more difficult to open up to me completely about their passions, game-changing ideas, hopes and fears.
I remember when a few years ago, at the end of an especially long and exhausting day, I accidentally bumped into a dear business contact. I said, ‘Hi John, it’s so lovely to see you. I always enjoy talking to you, because we have such profound conversations, but sadly that’s not going to happen today. I’m not in the right headspace, because I’ve been processing data all day without a break.’ (I probably expressed myself much less elaborately, because at that point even constructing complete sentences was a challenge.) He was surprised, but once he noticed my blank gaze, he understood what was going on.
I’ve also been on the other side of somewhat similar conversations, for example when catching up with team members after they had been running back-to-back meetings and workshops all day every day for a week, and doing more work at night and on the weekend.
We had productive discussions about facts and figures, systems and patterns; however, in our conversations, there was no place for out-of-the-box ideas, playful approaches or intuition. And I had the impression that the conversations that these team members had facilitated, and the consulting advice they had provided, had a similar flavour.
Who do you need to be?
Working efficiently and meeting deadlines are of course important, but we need to be aware how the quality of our work is impacted. In today’s business climate we can only engage our clients and add value when we are able to put ourselves in their shoes.
When I studied life coaching, I learnt that before I invite a coachee to relax, I should get relaxed myself. And before I encourage them to feel enthusiastic about something I should first tap into my own enthusiasm.
The way I see it, the same law applies, to some extent, in essentially any service-based business. When we want our clients to acknowledge and accept their limitations and their need for help, we should be prepared to do the same.
When we want our clients to pursue what’s best for them and think freely about possibilities, we should also be in that headspace. And of course, if our client’s goal is to become a superhero, that’s a perfect time for us to see ourselves as invincible.
As your industry and market are changing, including your people’s needs and expectations, are you changing with them?
Before you put yourself second to perform that small miracle like a Small Business superhero, why not ask yourself first: ‘What am I expecting from my people? And who do I need to be, so that I can hear them, understand them, and serve them as no-one else can?’
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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