Entrepreneurs turn down work all the time. But I didn't fully understand why until 2009, seven years after I started my Northern California-based private coaching and consulting practice.
I had an executive client at the time, responsible for leading a very large global consulting firm, who wanted to shortcut his growth--and I let him. At Active Choices, we lead a body of work called Intentional Energetic Presence, which is largely about cultivating solid leadership skills and cultural health through true self-care--a regimen that has nothing to do with exercising or getting a monthly massage. Among other things, it's about deep self-reflection; being clear about and true to your values; taking time off to think; being flexible while honoring boundaries; and being intentional about what you want to create.
All of this inner work is hard, so it's not surprising some people resist it. They often just want the skills, especially those who need to up their inner game the most. In this executive's case, all of my senses were crying out: Don't do it. Don't let the client slide. But I overrode my intuition, and agreed to do it "his way."
Two months in, when the results were not promising, I told the client we'd need to refer him out--to another consultancy that would do it his way--or switch gears and do it our way. He skeptically agreed to let us do it our way.
A little over a month later, he came to me displeased. Ironically enough, he had indeed seen significant progress, but he was frustrated because we hadn't insisted strongly enough on our method to begin with. Had I been stronger in my stance and more directive from the beginning, he said, we would have saved a ton of time. The incident sent me spinning.
As I sat in my car in the parking structure after that meeting, processing all my feelings--a combination of frustration, embarrassment, and disappointment--I realized I wasn't upset at him. Yes, he'd absolutely declined "my way" in the beginning. But he was right; I could have held my ground. Had I trusted myself more and rejected his doubt from the beginning, even to the point of walking away from the deal, we could have saved everyone a lot of time, money, and energy.
This moment might seem small, but in my work the little things are big things. They can indicate other problems. So I had to engage--and I set out on a path of why. Why had I not stood stronger and held boundaries I knew to be essential? Why had I overridden my intuition? And where else might this be happening in my company and my life?
I went on a quest to root out any incongruencies in my life, and I did what I now call a congruency cleanse. For the next six months, I looked at every relationship, every client, how we worked, how I was parenting, how my environment supported me (or didn't), even what I was saying yes and no to in my everyday life. Anything that felt out of alignment, I adjusted it, fixed it, or completed it. With each big or little thing I addressed, I felt my self-trust surge.
My personal life and the business looked very different a year later. We'd referred out or declined about 50 percent of the companies that came to us and didn't want to follow our process. We'd updated our criteria, and we'd regrounded ourselves in our why, what, and how. Today, our team has quadrupled in size and our revenue continues to tick higher each year, with few exceptions.
That incident taught me about mission and purpose; it taught me the value of pausing and partnering with myself in a way that I would not trade for anything. It was what I would later call a deliciously sh*tty year, and it set my organization--and me as CEO--in an essential direction.
I'm not saying good leaders don't compromise--they do. What I am saying is that as a leader, you have to make difficult decisions that may cost you business, or create tension with a client or customer, but are ultimately right. Leading takes guts, but it also takes the wherewithal to know yourself and your limits, as well as always being willing to stand for something bigger, even when there's a cost.
Get good with that and your company--along with your psyche--will prosper.