​The Entrepreneur and the Pea


The Entrepreneur and the Pea

Many years ago, there was a silly musical, based on a book, where a woman claiming to be a princess was “tested.” The test was to have her rest atop several mattresses. I forget the number of mattresses, so I’ll guess at least seven or eight! There was one catch: an official placed a single dried pea under the bottom mattress. If the princess awakened bruised, it was a sure sign that she was indeed a real princess. By golly, she developed a good-sized bruise.

Business coaching is no fairy-tale

At VIM Executive Coaching we don’t believe in fairy tales, especially when it comes to the complex tasks involved in running a business. So, unless you are a successful publisher of children’s books, Young Adult novels or science fiction, talking about fairy tales probably won’t do much to help your business model.

However, the story does have applicability to most any entrepreneurial venture. Let us assume that in this case, “the pea” is a human resources problem in your organization. Perhaps yours is a company that has been developing a blood test for a rare disease. The research and development for the test has recently been slowed, not because the test itself lacks promise but due to a conflict between the head of R&D and the legal team who must clear all of the compliance hurdles.

The problem is not a matter of competency; both the R&D director and the head of legal are brilliant and their work is exemplary. As they sit around the meeting table, it is quite clear they both know what they are doing. Nevertheless, they cannot stand one another. You never expected a Harvard-trained lawyer and a Stamford-trained, Ph.D. could turn out to be, quite frankly, a couple of temper-tantrum throwing children!

Though your company is going through the usual growing pains (you havealready launched at least one successful diagnostic product), you never expected that the acrimony between the two departments would become “the pea” that would be slowing a major innovation and valuable medical research tool. In fact, the problem has gotten to the point where it has caused sleepless nights and deadlines.

Once upon a time?

Most fairy tales start with the phrase, but as we all know that “once upon a time” isn’t necessarily a single event in time. Employee conflicts, especially in entrepreneurial situations, grow “organically.” People don’t start out at loggerheads, there is generally a period of calm or détente, even among disagreements or differing styles. Obviously, there are blatant exceptions, such as sexual assault allegations or fraud. In that case, your decision is fairly obvious once the truth is discovered.

In cases where there is disagreement or conflict that is slowing down an extremely important process, such as the development of a new product, the entrepreneurial leader has no choice but to become involved for the sake of the organization. But how?

There are three key elements we must discuss: reaction, response and mindfulness. To not address or identify these elements is a tragic response to an employee conflict.


Because two “warring” departments or employees within those departments are not getting along should not be a signal to rebuke one or both employees with riotous intent. Whether they are under the same roof, or are working remotely, an angry response on your part will often result in a defensive mechanism on theirs, or even one of the parties submitting an unwanted letter of resignation. An angry or inappropriate reaction usually results in a negative outcome, either overt or subvert.


If an entrepreneurial leader is authentic in their addressing a conflict, in seeing both sides and in trying to bring about a healing, as it were, to a dispute, the outcome is far more preferable, empowering and certainly understanding of the desires of both sides. There needs to be some honesty interjected here. An authentic response to conflict must include the realization that life is often not a fairy tale. We don’t necessarily have to envision a happy ever after scenario, rather a resolution that at least places the success of the organization above the differences of its parts.


The entrepreneurial leader needs to understand how to differentiate between an angry reaction and an authentic response. This is often confusing and troubling and indeed, it has what’s been causing the leader to “wake up bruised” despite the mattress. At VIM Executive Coaching, we help leaders navigate the journey toward greater mindfulness in their decision-making process, and to help cultivate a greater sense of authenticity.

Want to learn more about VIM Executive Coaching and our dynamic, highly effective coaching programs for executives and entrepreneurs? We would be happy to offer you a FREE, NO OBLIGATION coaching consultation! Please click on the link below.

EntrepeneurshipBruce Wolk