When you “hit the ceiling”, you stop growing! I learned the hard way, and almost ruined an organization.

It was in the early days of building a network of international companies. I had convinced the family owners of a large US business to allow me to take it global, and after a few years had assembled a collection of small companies stretched across three continents. Despite my best efforts, the venture was unprofitable, and the family was running out of patience. To make matters worse, I had convinced them to buy a company in the UK that was now on the verge of failing.

I didn’t know “hitting the ceiling” at the time. If I had ever used the phrase it would have been as an idiom for expressing anger, not a state of arrested development. Now as a Professional EOS® Implementer™, “hitting the ceiling” is lesson number 1 on the journey I take with all my clients. It’s an inevitable condition that all organizations and individuals face. You have either hit the ceiling in the past, will hit it in the future, or are currently hitting it. The EOS® journey enables leaders to master a set of tools to break through.

When I hit the ceiling, I remember thinking this is what it feels like to fail! My ambition had gotten the better of me and my mind was at war, constantly battling between problem resolution and deeply rooted self-doubt. I was making myself and everyone around me miserable, as I wrestled with how to turn around these unprofitable companies.

Weeks of deliberation came to a head one sleepless night, as I pondered how to handle a series of tough conversations scheduled for the next day. I had a plan, but I was obsessing about whether it would work, and how to sell it to the family. Stressed to the max, I managed to put the final pieces together as the sun rose on what had been a very dark night. I recall checking my watch as I drove to the office. It was 7AM, and the date was September 11, 2001. Terrorists would strike the US several hours later, and thousands of lives would be lost.

By 9AM the meetings I’d given up sleep preparing for were over. Beyond expectations, I had managed to secure agreement for every piece of my plan! My last step was a phone call to pitch the opportunity of a lifetime to a young entrepreneur whom I barely knew. By 10AM I had convinced him to uproot his life, move to the UK, and build a company. When I hung up the phone, I discovered that the world had violently changed. Panic had set in, and by noon my entire plan had unraveled.

When I teach “hitting the ceiling” to clients, it’s to set the stage for all the learning that follows on our EOS® journey. I always have 9/11 in mind, because in the days following the attacks, I had to quickly learn some very hard leadership lessons that have remained with me ever since. In an environment of fear, anxiety and anger, I had to learn to simplify, delegate, predict, systemize and structure in a way I never had before. My objective now is to simply help clients learn those same lessons, without experiencing the pain I endured.

The organization gradually moved forward, as did the nation and the world. I developed a team of exceptional entrepreneurs, and together we learned, adapted and continued to break through. By the time the new World Trade Center opened a dozen years later, that unprofitable, dysfunctional, international collection of companies had grown into a profitable, $250m global business spread across 40 countries.

Don’t be a frustrated lonely entrepreneur like I was! Take this EOS® Organizational Checkup. You’ll get an objective measure of the strength of your organization and areas to focus on.

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"Ceilings Abound:
How to Break Through"

There are five skills leaders must master to break through ceilings. They are the antidote to complexity.

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