Owner Paralysis – i.e. Vapor Lock

Jan 17, 2017 | CEO / Owner, News, SJCC

Executive Summary: When a tragic event happens, even the roughest and tumble executives can suffer from decisional paralysis. I don’t mean physical paralysis in your body, I mean the inability to make a decision. You’re not alone.

Who you are. You are the father of two beautiful little girls, the husband to a supportive wife, and the son of giving parents. All of them behind you in what you do and all supportive in your quest to become the next great constructor. Your sweet and well-intentioned wife has no idea of your daily struggles fighting government regulation to perform the simplest of construction installations, battling over the credit value of a three dollar widget which is holding up a $250,000 payment from the State, and the bid results you got thirty minutes ago where you left a million bucks on the table on a $2 million job.

The cause. The cause of this paralysis can be one of a hundred reasons: a job site injury, a surprise visit from your friends at OSHA, a publicly read bid result, an unknown lawyer holding on line 3, or a message from the field starting with “…uh, we just had a plane crash on the job…”. The cause I have heard more than once is financial. As the owner or top executive, you can’t bear to stop by the job because it’s bleeding so much financially. Every day out there is on your nickel and it doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any day soon. As much as you want it to be over, going out to the site only reminds you of how bad things really are.

I also call it vapor lock. True vapor lock is when you are starting up a wastewater pump and, although the impeller’s spinning, no water is coming out. The pump has an air bubble in it and it can’t function. This can be you – spinning and trying to function, by you can’t.

The fix. Of course the solution you hear about from your MBA buddy – who works for Google and struggles every lunch between whether to eat in the company cafeteria and watch the game, or to go across the street for a Boar’s Head Black Forest ham sandwich and a Jamba Juice Mangolicious – is to immediately assess the situation, call upon your staff to have a brainstorming meeting, develop a best practices recovery plan, and then implement that plan.

The fix, if you didn’t go down Rainbows & Unicorns Boulevard paved for you in the previous paragraph, is to knuckle down and get through it. One of two ways helps a lot.

One way is to confide in your top management by calmly explaining how you feel and how you could use his or her help in getting through this tough time. He or she will not have the same emotional ties to this event and can, as objectively as possible, get this event behind the Company. The release of this stress feels pretty darned good too.

Secondly, concurrent with the above action, or on a regular basis, seek similar individuals in industry and/or in this role as owner or CEO. I have a CEO friend who calls me every three to six months and asks to have a beer with me. I don’t solve his problems, but it certainly lifts a weight off of him by hearing that he’s not alone. Every time I’m with him, it’s like this video:

  • Him: Matt Damon
  • Me: Robin Williams
  • The cause of your paralysis: the brown folder

Now you just have to imagine me (Robin Williams) at the 25-second mark replacing “it’s not your fault” with “you’re not alone”.

My story. You just read it*.

*But for the kids and wife. And the MBA guy – I made him up; the MBA buddy I have doesn’t work at Google and is too hardened to say something like that.

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