Small Business Failure

The Pressures of Low or Negative Margins and Employee Turnover will Create a Downward Spiral for Many Small Businesses

Small Business Failure

The combination of inflation, poor first-line leadership, and expensive mistakes spell trouble for low-margin small businesses. I think we will see small businesses fail at historically high rates in 2022.

Inflation of 4 percent or higher will persist due to supply chain challenges and demands for higher wages. The Biden administration’s Build Back Better initiative, if it passes, will heighten inflation even as it invests in (hopefully) high-payoff programs. Inflationary pressures are going to reduce margins. In some cases, small businesses could find themselves completing projects and selling products at a loss.

The so-called great resignation will continue because COVID has reduced people’s tolerance for poor leadership, toxic work environments, and poor work conditions. Some people are leaving their jobs to upgrade their skills and enter new lines of work. Most seem to be switching jobs within their current industries.

The best talent will find their way to companies that have good leadership, healthy cultures, and quality work environments. Provided that these companies can innovate successfully to outpace inflation and higher costs, they will thrive in an upward spiral of better talent, higher quality products and services, and greater continuity.

Business Failure
Small Business Failure

The pressures of low or negative margins and employee turnover will create a downward spiral for many small businesses. CEOs will work longer hours and get consumed in problem-solving, which heightens the risks of expensive mistakes. They’ll lack the bandwidth to innovate, so the margins will continue shrinking until the business is no longer sustainable.

You cannot do much about inflation (except raise their prices), but you can take these steps:
1. Fire managers who are driving employees away,
2. Invest in leader development so that you attract and retain great talent,
3. Reduce the likelihood of expensive mistakes by having trusted advisers who will help you avoid falling in love with your own plans and getting high from your own fumes, and
4. Innovate to create higher-margin products and services.

Programs that Accelerate Success

CEO Mastermind group is for Milwaukee-area small business leaders and consultants who want to accelerate their growth in 2022. We meet monthly for lunch, and you get unlimited access to me. I’m limiting the group to 8. Six places are remaining.

FOCUSED is my 8-week mastery program for small business leaders and consultants to put the action plans in place to make 2022 their best year ever. The next program begins in late January; there are only eight spaces available. Click here for more information and to apply.

Innovation Mindset is a new 8-week program for consultants and small business leaders that I intend to launch in January, based on interest. This program gives you the tools to address (and help your clients address) the challenges facing small businesses in 2022 so that you can create an upward spiral that propels your business to new heights. Please reply to this email if you are interested.

The Trusted Adviser Program is my most intensive 1-on-1 program. Within 90 days, you’ll gain habits that create breakthrough success. You get personalized coaching and support, strict accountability, and commonsense action steps that get results. Get the details here.

Exclusive Events

The next Antietam & Gettysburg exclusive event takes place March 15-18. This program is for seven leaders and consultants who want to turbocharge 2022 with innovations. We use critical points on the battlefield to discuss decision-making, gaining buy-in, improving agency and initiative, and how to avoid getting high off the smell of your own gunpowder. We finish with an innovation workshop where you will develop action steps to gain decisive competitive advantages. There are four spaces left.


LEADERSHIP: THE WARRIOR’S ART, second edition, is on the streets. We expect leaders to anticipate and shape the future so that your team can succeed. To do so, you need imagination grounded in a  practical perspective. That’s what you get with this book, which is why it’s been in print for over 20 years.

Zero-Sum Victory: What We’re Getting Wrong About War is my latest book about strategic decision-making. I use the disasters in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq to give you the tools and mental models to avoid the traps and own goals that have created quagmires for the United States. You’ll gain ways to improve agency, bridge silos, pivot smartly, avoid breathing your own exhaust, and many other outcomes.

Think about one of your most amusing, real, and charismatic friends. I conjure up Sarah with her red curly hair, her robust laugher, her ability to find joy and wit in every interaction, and her unflappable ability to be her true self regardless of audience and pressure. I used to envy her ability to step outside of the quintessential stereotype and into the world of uniqueness. Is this authenticity in its purest form? I used to think so until I recently read “The Modern Trusted Advisor” by Alan Weiss and Dr. Nancy MacKay. Their definition stopped me in my tracks. They describe authenticity as “Owning our own feelings and being accountable, understanding the impact of our actions on others, and being honest about what we need versus what we want.” Merriam-Webster describes authentic as “real or genuine,” and “true and accurate.” It’s as though Weiss and MacKay took the bones of Merriam-Webster’s definition and put some meat on it.

Our instincts draw us towards authentic individuals. It’s as though we have this gravitational pull toward their realness. The spurious individuals put up immediate red flags with their “commission breath” and “sleazy sales.” We can almost see them compromising their true self to make a deal or create a connection, albeit, a fake one. Realness breeds trusting relationships and fakeness breeds ill-suited relationships that often end badly. What team do you want to be on?

Action steps to practicing and reaping authenticity:

  1. Stop the mini-me syndrome – Diversity and uniqueness build strong, high-functioning teams. Hire people with different skills and abilities. Be aware of whether or not you’re trying to change the individuals to be like you. Honor all varieties of voices and perspectives. Conflict is ok. The key is making sure it’s a productive conflict.
  1. Reflect on your interactions to assess if you were compromising your true self – Did you uphold your core values and your organization’s mission? Did you try to fit into the other person’s mold or stick with your own?
  1. Eliminate imposter syndrome – You―yes, you―deserve all the good that this world has to offer. You are not a fraud. Get rid of self-doubt. Never put yourself down for succeeding. In the words of Stewart Smalley from Saturday Night Live, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”
  1. Choose real, not games – You’ll attract more of the right-fit people when you are yourself. The faker you are, the shallower your pond.
  1. Do your best, be yourself, and be satisfied – Sticking to who you are, your core values, and upholding them as best as you can, will give you more peace of mind. Peace of mind leads to better sleep, less guilt, and more integrity

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!
The Trusted Advisor Program is my most intensive 1-on-1 program. Within 90 days you’ll gain habits that create breakthrough success. You get personalized coaching and support, relentless accountability, and commonsense action steps that get results.

Join our central Wisconsin in-person or online Impactful Leadership Lunch. Find like-minded leaders and join this monthly mastermind lunch group.

Looking for a Keynote Speaker at your next event? I use my past experiences and knowledge to bring people together and inspire individuals to do their best.

[email protected]
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Yup, that’s me in the photo—the one with hair. I’m not sharing the picture to boast or brag, but rather to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU! I’m bursting with gratitude as I write this. Gratitude to be surrounded by so many other wonderful veterans, so many civilians that care, and for a country that honors its heroes. I have had the utmost privilege of meeting many outstanding service members since my return home, and especially since I’ve changed careers in July.

My life is deeply impacted by these brothers and sisters in arms. The kindred spirit flows through our interwoven relationships and the unspoken bond strengthens with every interaction. The veteran community is robust, passionate, gritty, funny, caring, empathetic, resourceful, and tough as nails. Our go-to answer is, “yes” and then we figure out how to do it. Work ethic and gumption ooze out of every pore. These are my people.
Please know that every thank you and Veterans Day acknowledgment means the world to me/us and it fills my heart with joy and gratitude.

I had to share this outstanding drawing that a 6th grader gave me this morning. Her talent is out of this world and it almost brought me to tears.
Originally, this article was meant to create awareness about Veterans. However, as the day unfolds, and the love continues to grow, I simply want to say, “Thank you!” And if you haven’t reached out to a veteran today, perhaps think about the positive impact of that interaction.
Blessings to you all and thanks to all the Veterans in my life.

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You wake up, go through the morning routine, and off to work you go; habits abound. When do you exercise and focus on your health? Do you read in the morning? You arrive at the office, log on, get your coffee, and do you. In your first meeting or phone call, you repeat the familiar opening words. Same place, same people. Do you always run the meeting?
Do you engage others, say good morning or hello? Is your door open or closed? Are your curtains open? Is your camera on? Can others see you, and is that what you prefer? Habits.
Are you happy with the Team’s productivity, or could it use a boost? Are your habits improving productivity, or could they use a boost?
Some habits help us. Other habits may be dragging us down, restricting our motivation, thinking, leading, and fun. Here is a word reminder to help you check on your habits:
𝗟isten, learn, laugh every day; listen to understand first, learn something new about yourself or your Team, and have some fun, laugh
𝗘xperience something new and help your Team do the same
𝗔ccountability of yourself and others, acknowledge others for their efforts
𝗗evelop or help someone every day; it may very well be the most important and satisfying thing you do 
𝗘mpathize to broaden your understanding of other perspectives
𝗥ead every day; whether it is a book, devotional, or Stoic, to help you grow
Take five minutes and jot down your LEADER habits for the day and reflect on your growth. The experts say it takes anywhere from 21-60 days to form a new habit. You should see a boost in productivity in about that same time. That is the power of habits. 

Core Values

As the “Facebook Papers” continue to unfold showing us the fundamental gaps in Facebook’s values one can wonder if they uphold their values or, rather, if their values revolve around making more money and connections regardless of political turmoil or damage to the users. Are the teams functioning at top capacity with the whistleblowing? Is the company reassessing what they stand for?
When leading teams, empathy, integrity, and trust are vital. A shared set of values will create a strong and productive team. When someone compromises the values, the team struggles to trust and produce ethical results.
One of the leadership teams that I belonged to as a junior leader had two senior leaders with large personalities who leaned toward the negative side. I dubbed the meetings the “Tammy and Tim Show” because the meetings were no longer about the agenda, about the organization’s vision or mission, or even about developing solutions to the problems. We wasted hours throughout the years listening to Tammy and Tim grieve about their problems. Do you have a Tammy and/or Tim? Do you struggle to get the meetings back on track? If we had upheld our team’s core values and meeting norms of “start on time/end on time, collaboration, and sticking to the agenda” this wouldn’t have happened and the meetings would have been more productive and less dysfunctional.

Action steps to getting to the core of your values:

Stick to your values. The people in your life will have a better understanding of who you are, what you stand for, and why you do the things you do.

“Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precious and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives.” ~ Brene Brown.

  • Don’t have “crystallized” values? Get some. Use this simple formula: What + Definition + So That. Identify the value, define it, and the results/outcomes from it. For example: Respect + Treat everyone with dignity + so that each person feels that they can contribute their best and most authentic selves. Then share your values with your employees, friends, and family. This will help hold you accountable.
  • Uphold your organization’s values. If the values are archaic, change them. If you don’t agree with them and can’t change them then you need to ask yourself if the company is a right fit for you.

“Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.” ~ Brene Brown.

  • Lean into your values every day to obtain a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t accomplish anything else throughout the day, at least you can say that you upheld your values.
  • Get to know and foster your employee’s values. If family is important to them, honor that. If open communication is one of their values, then communicate with them. This is yet another way to empathize with your employees and create a sense of belonging within your organization.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!
[email protected]
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Leading a balanced life is not a matter of dividing time. It’s being clear on your priorities and ensuring that you meet commitments in the important aspects of your life.

It’s easy to drift. You let your email inbox become your daily to-do list and get sucked into the social media vortex. You meet everyone’s demands, but you feel like the most important aspects of your life are passing by. I’ve been there.

Here’s a way to take back your life.

1. Identify the four or five most important aspects of your life. Career, Family & Friends, Health & Fitness, Community, Faith, Mentoring, among others, are common ones.

2. Create a bullseye or spider web chart with a spoke for each aspect. Label the rings 2-4-6-8-10.

3. Assess how well you feel that you are meeting commitments on each one. 0-2 = very poorly; 8-10 = highly satisfied.

4. Connect the dots. How happy are you with the picture?

5. To boost your engagement in a particular area, put time on your calendar for it and do not compromise that commitment.

6. Each morning, write down three things you want to accomplish that day. At the end of the day, write down three things that you achieved.

7. Find a partner or trusted adviser who will help you stay on track and do the right things the right way. Accountability shortens your path to success.


When teachers believe they can positively influence student learning through their collective actions, the students succeed at a rate almost four times faster than an average school year. This shared belief is called Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE). A renowned researcher, John Hattie, and his team conducted meta-analyses on millions of students across the globe. They quantitatively measure influences on student achievement. Collective Teacher Efficacy is one of the most effective influences on student achievement; more so than socioeconomic factors, study time, teacher feedback, and student’s prior knowledge, to name a few. According to Jenni Donoho, a leading expert, teachers with CTE show greater effort and persistence, willingness to try new teaching approaches, and attend more closely to struggling students’ needs.

I heard a story about a student who was not doing well in school. He struggled to pass his classes and did not seem to have much of a future. When he got his SAT scores back, he received 1400, which was enough to be accepted into college regardless of his high school transcript. That student went to college and successfully completed his first year. Shortly thereafter, he found out that the SAT issued him the wrong score. His actual score was much lower and reflected that of his K-12 career. When asked how he succeeded his first year in college, he responded that he finally believed in himself and his ability to succeed—something he had never possessed before.

This student’s story is a perfect example of self-efficacy, which is the belief in oneself to execute the desired outcome. Let’s take CTE and self-efficacy and coin the phrase “Collective Efficacy.”
This phenomenon can be transposed into business leadership. Collective Efficacy is your ability to build a strong team, a supportive network, and the ability to push your organization to new heights. When you have cheerleaders and people who fully believe in your ability to achieve your dreams, you’re unstoppable.

Take a look at the model below. The Success Mindset model includes capacity, confidence, action, and results. If the word “low” precedes the words on the cycle, one can expect poor results. Inversely, if the word “high” precedes the words on the cycle, you can expect big results.
The key is helping people believe in themselves and have the confidence to take action.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help! [email protected]
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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, renovation means to restore to a former better state. As my husband and I finish up the large job of residing our house and replacing all the windows, I can’t help but think of the parallels between this job and that of leadership―where one should strive to become the best version of oneself and to build an organization that allows their employees to do the same―to reach their best “state.”

With three young children, it’s hard for my husband and me to find time for ourselves. Renovating homes―this being our third―has become something we both love to do together. Just like any team, there are growing pains, communication breakdowns, and assumptions that can lead to frustration. Regardless, we are better together because of our shared interests. Here are a few things we’ve learned:

There need to be compromises – It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong or when the other person knows more than you. The sooner you put your ego aside, open your heart and mind to others’ opinions, and understand that their ideas are valuable, the process becomes more freeing and collaborative. Remember, empathy and vulnerability lead to stronger leadership.Communication, communication, communication – When my husband and I were moving the box that held our garage door, he tilted his head in a diagonal direction and said,  “Lay it this way.” I started laughing and said, “Honey, I have no idea which direction your head is implying.” The more that we communicate, the better the outcome, and the quicker the results. Are you making assumptions or jumping to conclusions? Are your employees? Think about how you can create more clarity through communication. There are hidden obstacles around every bend. As leaders, we constantly need to innovate and adapt. Removing the 50-year-old siding has left my husband and me scratching our heads at the randomness left underneath. The rotted holes needed to be fortified, the missing insulation had to be filled, and the hodgepodge siding needed to be streamlined. Similarly, in business, leadership is about building your employees up, streamlining processes, and creating a clear picture of where your organization is headed. Working interdependently leads to better results. 

When my husband called me out of the office to lift the 300 pound 10×5 foot window into its home, I almost laughed at the absurdity. There was no easy way to lift this window with its straight lines and minimum edges for grip. Through our collaborative problem-solving, we figured out how to maneuver the window up and onto chairs and then over into its final resting place. Without our collective brainpower, we almost gave up. As an organization, know that you are better when you work as a whole instead of in silos. The end result is beautiful when executed patiently and to the best of your ability. Things are not built overnight. Life’s nuances, hiccups, and demands are never-ending. Be patient and always do your best. If it is your best, then you should be proud. Perfection is a fallacy.

Are you asking yourself, “How do I do this?” I can help!
[email protected]
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david vs goliath in businesss

Small businesses can innovate faster than big businesses.

Iran is building drones that fire ship-killing missiles while nerds with laptops launch business-crippling cyberattacks. The English longbow defeated the heavily armored French knight. “Two thousand pounds of education,” Kipling lamented of British officers shot down by rifle-wielding Pashtun fighters, “Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.”

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Innovation is applied ingenuity that gives you a competitive advantage. It does not have to be expensive or hi-tech.

Problem-solving restores performance to a set standard. Leaders who fixate on it do not move their organizations forward — they create yo-yos.

Innovation, on the other hand, takes you to new heights. The medieval English had a significant disadvantage: the French knights could outspend them on armor and thus win battles. Instead of investing in better armor, the English invested in the longbow and archers and invented tactics to enhance their effect. The Battle of Agincourt showed the innovation’s devastating effects. 

Who’s helping you innovate so that your people, processes, and products give you a competitive advantage or make you distinct in the field?

Small businesses win when they think like David, not like Goliath.