I’m not a big fan of the many attempts over the years to apply Buddhist principles to business management (although I do like the Kinder Institute’s use of “life planning” as a service model). It’s always seemed to be a bit forced, and usually pretty unrealistic. But the other day, I was talking about my work with advisory firm owners to a friend of mine who practices Zen, and he pointed out that the principles I use to teach owners to run more successful firms are right out of the Buddha’s sutras.
I’ve come to these principles not by reading religious texts, but by working with firm owners for many years. For instance, when I take a business owner as a new client, she or he is almost always worried about the future: How can the business grow? Where will new clients come from? How will we handle the additional work load? What new services should we add? How can I possibly work more than I do now? What will happen if or when the stock market drops?
These are all good questions to be sure. However, they are not questions that most advisory firm owners — or their business consultants — are in a position to answer today, which means that fretting about them now is just a waste of time and energy. When I start working with a new client, the first thing I do is to get them to focus on the present; specifically, on what they love about where their firm is now.
This new focus does two things. First, focusing on positives rather than problems elevates their mood and restores their physical and emotional energy. Second, it creates a mental starting place from which to talk about the future, and to build on, to create a business that they will love even more.
To redirect owner advisors’ minds away from a fearful future, and toward a happy present, I take them through the following five steps:
1. Live in the present. I’ve found the most effective way to do this is to get owners to live within the income they are generating right now — that is, to create a business model that does not require more. This shifts the conversation away from “needing” to grow the business, to “how do we want to grow” the business.
Often, I find that firm owners will live beyond their means simply because they know they can add one more client to catch up. The problem is that then they are always trying to catch up, which creates a large degree of anxiety. What’s more, the vast majority of owners today delay the whole tax thing. I make them file their tax returns on time, and pay the taxes and estimates on time, too.