I’m thinking of selling Parisleaf. Being honest, things aren’t going the way we hoped. We’ve taken the agency as far as we can, but we’ve decided it’s time for a new challenge next year.
Thankfully, this isn’t our resolution for 2020 or a dreadful new-decade surprise for the team at Parisleaf. It’s an example of the kind of pessimistic, glass-half-empty conversations I’ve had with myself once or twice before.
For those of you who know me, these thoughts are out of character. But the fact that it sometimes happens makes me wonder, why do business leaders lose the spark?
Maybe it’s financial issues, burnout from working insane hours, the responsibility of looking after a growing team, or the stress that doesn’t wash off when you get home. For me, it’s been all of those things at one time or another.
Most leaders accept the downsides as part of the deal, but often there’s another reason why people lose their spark – and it’s a reason we don’t talk about.
The sheer boredom of no longer having a purpose.
I recently asked a friend and client of ours who is dealing with multiple high stress, and incredibly complex 9-figure deals, how he gets through these difficult times with such a big smile on his face. He replied, “I try to always remember the purpose – why we do what we do.”
Unlike stress or a financial downturn, lack of direction isn’t a challenge you can smash through, a problem you can easily fix, or a balance that can be restored. It’s frightening to leaders for precisely this reason.
The weird thing is, it can happen to any of us regardless of our achievements. This is because most businesses still adopt the age-old measure of success: making money. As soon as we are faced with great success or great failure, we compromise and lose sight of our purpose – why we started in the first place. Not having a reason to exist beyond growth and profit is a warning sign that we’re heading for an existential crisis. As I often say, “Growth for the sake of growth is the definition of cancer.”
At Parisleaf, there’s nothing about “growing” or “making money” in our purpose statement. Those things are important to us, but they can’t be the only motivators because there will likely be times when we don’t grow or our sales dip. If our purpose doesn’t extend beyond these two things, our motivation will eventually die. Either that or our business will become boring. I will become bored. I’ve seen it a thousand times.
For example, we once worked with a client on the west coast who had just secured their Series C funding and asked us to submit a proposal for their rebrand. After getting the green light to work together, we began the discovery process, which included an interview with the founder. Everyone at the company spoke about how charismatic and inspiring he was, but I couldn’t see what made him special. Halfway through the interview, I leaned in and asked him one of the most difficult, but most important questions I could have ever asked: “Are you bored?” The question perked him up. I saw his eyes momentarily brighten before he slipped back into his usual, more vanilla responses.
A few hours after the interview, I was waiting outside for the valet to bring my car around before going out to dinner when I heard this big voice behind me: “Chad, you ride with me. We need to talk about my boring life.” We ended up talking for hours about what motivates him. He later told me that our conversation and the rebrand that ensued helped him fall back in love with his business.
At Parisleaf, the only time we have ever found ourselves in trouble is when we’ve lost sight of why we exist as a business, or when I’ve stepped off this path as a leader.
We started our branding agency to create a healthy work environment that allows us to do great work in a way that’s kinder to the planet. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve put consistent effort into getting there. Our second aim was to absolutely love what we do and who we do it with. Finally, we wanted to help other modern-minded businesses to attract customers, and inspire employees from a place of purpose.
Some things never change, but the purpose can evolve with the business and in response to what’s happening in the world. Even leaders who have a strong purpose need to review it periodically. I often turn to trusted business advisors to make sure our direction is true and remind myself why we exist.
In the last couple of months in 2019, I was focused on finishing strong. From a financial perspective, 2019 shaped up to be one of our best years since we started Parisleaf. I was pushing the team to sprint to the finish line. In the process, I pushed too hard and forgot that our reason for coming to work is not to be as profitable as possible. Without realizing it, I asked the team to compromise our values, and as a result, our culture started to suffer. The trickle-down was that the quality of our work, and ultimately our relationships with our clients started to suffer as well. A few weeks later, I apologized to the team because it’s on me not to lose sight of why we’re here (shoutout to my partner, Ali, for helping me see my blind spots).
This is a lesson we have had to learn again and again.
I still remember the first time I doubted myself in business. I told one of my mentors that I was thinking about giving up and selling Parisleaf, to which they responded: “Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. You should sell your business so you can go to work for someone else.” It was the exact response I needed to remind me that my personal purpose is to grow, to be a better leader for others, and to create the best working environment I can – something I feel I wouldn’t be able to do working for someone else.
So, back to the original question. Why do we sometimes lose our spark? Where do our motivation, nerve, and courage vanish to when we’re up against the wall? I believe every leader will eventually reach a point with their business where they need to re-evaluate their reason why. It’s normal and human.
We must stop believing that purpose is something that we decide once, a box we tick in a branding process (or in therapy), and never think about again.
We’re barely into a new year and I want to leave you with this question: Is your purpose strong enough to see you through 2020 and beyond?
If you’ve lost your spark or you’ve fallen out of love with your business, then I encourage you to go back to the beginning. Write down what motivated you from the start. Sum it up in a sentence. Use it as your guiding light. Share it with your team.
If you want a second opinion, my inbox is always open.