Beware The Maxim

Jim Blasingame Languages become rich and interesting when expressions are coined and used to leverage our points-of-view. These expressions come in many forms, like the platitude, the bromide, and the cliché, for example, which represent the obvious, the hackneyed, and the over-used. Then there are others that cut to the chase, like the proverb, the saw, the truism, and the maxim.

I think that last expression, the maxim, is one of the most interesting because in its definition we find both truth and consequences. Webster says a maxim is a "generally accepted truth."

But how could something be a "generally accepted" truth? Webster makes the truth found in a maxim sound like a rule we voted on. Shouldn't the truth be beyond debate? Frenchman and Nobel prizewinning author, Albert Camus, said, "Integrity has no need of rules." Couldn't we say the same thing about truth?

Well, that's why something is a maxim; it's merely "accepted" as the truth, and therein lay the consequences. The best example of a maxim that I know is, "It's lonely at the top." True enough. But must it be?

Self-Imposed Exile
Small business owners know all about being lonely at the top. And even though being "at the top" of a small business is not very high in the marketplace, no CEO of any Forbes or Fortune favorite can move the needle on the loneliness meter as far as we can.

But loneliness for a small business owner is a self-imposed exile. It's something we often do to ourselves when we are faced with any number of difficulties. The beauty of a maxim is that it's a "generally accepted truth." Apparently, we can choose not to be among those who are so accepting.

Five Small Business Lies
I don't know what the opposite of a maxim is, but it would certainly have to include something untrue. Small business loneliness, one of the most dangerous things we allow to happen, is a phenomenon I have long contemplated, and have determined that there are five untruths we tell ourselves which contribute to this affliction:

Lie #1. As the owner, I'm supposed to know how to solve this problem.
Lie #2. I don't want to talk to anyone about this or ask for help, because I am experiencing something that others don't.
Lie #3. I can't admit that I have a problem because that would make me appear managerially ignorant and my business competitively weak.
Lie #4. I don't know anyone who can help me.
Lie #5. Even if I found someone to advise me, I couldn't afford it.

Since these are all lies, by definition they can't qualify as maxims. But like the maxim, these lies do have consequences - unfortunate consequences that actually result in business failures.

For Success, Seek Counsel
Someone who agrees with me on this is my friend, John Dini, who joined me recently on my show to encourage us to not be among those who generally accept that it MUST be lonely at the top. John is part of The Alternative Board organization, and he runs the most successful TAB chapter in North America.

John reminded us of a great expression that might have been considered a maxim were it not written by the personification of wisdom and found in a famous collection. In Chapter 16 in the book of Proverbs, King Solomon said something that should be printed, framed and displayed prominently in the office of every small business owner:

"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors, they succeed."

Free Or Not - Find It
Where can a small business owner get advice and counsel? Lots of places, says John Dini, including many options for those on a Spartan budget. Here is a list of options John and I recommend, beginning with the ones that cost nothing:

No Cost
• Mastermind groups can be formed by anyone simply by asking peers to get together and talk about issues and share ideas.

• Small Business Development Centers are peppered all around the U.S., and are staffed by outstanding professionals. And since SBDCs are part of the SBA, their services are free. Usually associated with a college or university, your local chamber of commerce will know where the nearest SBDC is.

• Service Corps Of Retired Executives, or SCORE, is another SBA supported group found in most U.S. markets. The full name is totally intuitive and there is no charge for their counsel.

• Family and friends, unless they are in business, may not be able to help with technical advice, but listen to them when they tell you to abandon the exile, come out of your cave, lose the martyr act, and ask for help.

Low Cost
• Your local chamber of commerce may be the most important destination address for you to know to get help. You will invest a paltry couple hundred bucks a year to be a full-fledged member, but it's one of the best investments you can make. And if you absolutely can't afford to join, they will still help you.

• Colleges and universities have continuing education departments that offer dozens of short courses on a wide variety of business fundamentals. The cost per program is usually under $100, and sometimes they're free.

• Trade and professional association roundtables are great places to meet fellow travelers and learn valuable management solutions. Cost is the price of membership.

Budget Required
• Professional consultants will cost you anywhere from two to three figures per hour. But if you qualify the professional you hire enough to know that he or she has the background to help you, and you manage these relationships properly, professional consultants are a great value.

• Executive Peer Groups, like The Alternative Board and Business Network International require an investment, but the structure is professional and the value is high.

• Certified public accountants and attorneys often can serve as valuable advisors beyond the professional work they do for you. But remember, like any professional, their time is their inventory. Use these advisors wisely and they will deliver great value.

Beware The Maxim
Whenever you find yourself being seduced by a maxim like, "It's lonely at the top," remember, this truth is merely generally accepted. You probably didn't get where you are by being a conformist, so why start now.

Write this on a rock... Being "at the top" is always going to be a tough job, but it doesn't have to be a lonely job. Regardless of your challenges or budget, listen to the wise man and seek counsel. Otherwise you might find yourself being painfully acquainted with another passage found in Proverbs 16: "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."

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Category: Work-Life, Balance
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