Denise Logan is widely recognized as a global thought leader on business owner transitions. She has addressed audiences on three continents garnering critical international acclaim for her innovative approach in helping business owners and their advisors successfully navigate the complex emotion-fueled obstacles involved in selling their business with integrity & humanity and, most importantly, without regrets. Owners and advisors around the globe turn to the wisdom in her best-selling book The Seller’s Journey whenever deals get “emotionally” hung up.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
Neither of my parents graduated from high school and, although pursuing more education wasn’t a high priority in my home, I had my eyes firmly focused on college.
A local banker named Mr. Finn agreed to make an unsecured student loan to me as a 16-year-old girl. Years later, when I realized that his actions likely weren’t aligned with bank policy and he had stuck his neck out to help secure my future, I returned to ask what had made him willing to help me in that way. But he had already passed away. I often wonder and I offer my thanks much quicker to those who lend a hand great or small in my life. After all, none of us is actually self-made, we all have our own Mr. Finn.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
What I do is not who I am, and all work is valuable (even though our system of remuneration would tell us otherwise.)
After I exited my own business, I traveled all over North and Central America in a motorhome for several years. I often attended a pancake supper at the local firehouse or a chamber of commerce meeting in whatever area I was staying. Whoever had the most interesting job that night, I would ask, “Can I come to work with you for a week? You don’t need to pay me, and I’ll do whatever you need to be done, I just want to see what work is like for you.” No doubt I earned some strange looks but, more often, the person said yes.
I learned so many things, not the least of which is that we need every single person to do the work they do for our world to run the way it does. The way we value some work over others is random. Intellectual work isn’t more valuable than labor, we’ve simply created that artificial construct around value. It harms all of us to pretend that some of us are more important than others and it has turned the question “What do you do?” into a social pegging device instead of engaging curiosity about the other person’s passions. Think I’m kidding? Notice how you react if someone says “hairdresser” or “professor”. Are you thinking whether you are above or below them in the social or economic chain?
Traveling and being part of hundreds of people’s work shifted the way I think about work and the essential dignity of the people who do it.
If you’re curious, when we meet, ask me to tell you about how I found a better answer to the question “What do you do?”
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Everyone does it this way” makes me grimace. As a professional speaker, my goal is to simultaneously entertain, educate and provoke my audience.
One of the lessons it took me some time to internalize is remembering that I was brought here to change someone’s life and I don’t always know which someone it is in that room.
Instead of treating my audience like PEZ dispensers waiting for me to fill their heads with 1-2-3 formulas to spit back out later, I’m keenly aware they’re human beings waiting to be touched by a message that inspires them. No one is served by me delivering a talk TO my audience. My superpower as a presenter invites them to experience something WITH me and to internalize it FOR themselves. They are changed by the stories I tell, the way the message brushes against their own unique experiences and they leave with permission to deploy those learnings in ways that are just right for them.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I knew it was time to leave my business for several years before I actually made the move. Each time I spoke about my desire to make a change or my growing burnout, the people around me – although well-intentioned – discouraged me. They said things like “You’re crazy, people would give anything to be you!”
I had unconsciously begun making decisions that would ultimately lead to a crisis – one big enough that when I ultimately decided to exit made others say “Oh, of course, you can’t continue on, I understand.”
Years later, I shared the full (unsanitized) version of my story from the stage in front of several hundred people for the first time. A woman stood up, hands on her hips, and dressed me down from the audience – apparently, she was disappointed that mine was not a fairy tale story of success without intervening failure. Honestly, I could feel myself perspiring through my blouse and, when she finished, I said, “Thank you. You just said every single thing I’ve been afraid someone would say to me about what happened, plus a few I hadn’t thought of yet! But I notice I’m still standing, and I wonder, what is it in your life that you’re afraid to try or do because someone else might say to you a version of what you just said to me?” She turned on her heel and stormed out.
I didn’t go back to my prepared presentation. Instead, I engaged the audience in a rich conversation about how being afraid of what other people will think can leave us stuck for years, creating seemingly out-of-the-blue crises to somehow let us out of the prisons of our own making.
Want to know what I learned? Two things – One, pay attention to the nudges that say it’s time to make a change. It’s always better to choose than to have your choices made for you. Two, I have no reason to hide my failures or create tidy, sanitized versions of my journey. Real is always better and allows people to feel safe with their own failings and foibles.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I think success may be over-rated! My company is called Chase What Matters (not “chase every damned shiny thing that everyone else thinks is important”?) for a reason!
What has contributed most to the quality of my life and the way my business has matured is that I know the value of “enough”. Years ago, I spoke at an event in The Netherlands, and someone introduced me to the concept of “lagom” … in essence, not too much, not too little – just right! Instead of chasing “more,” I’ve found pleasure in finding the middle ground between abundance and scarcity, which just seem like extremes to me.
I am enough, I do enough, I have enough. Good words to live and measure by, in my opinion.
What is your morning routine?
Sorry to disappoint those folks who are looking for my secret morning routine! Being too rigid triggers my perfectionism, so I’ve learned to lean more toward listening inside for what serves me best at that moment. I tend to be an early bird though, and I travel a lot as a professional speaker so that usually means I’m safely tucked in bed by 9:30. But, before I go to bed, I almost always slip outside to sneak a peek at the moon. Watching it change night by night helps me to stay connected to how things in life change and I know that, wherever I am, the people I care about are also watched over by the very same moon, too.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I write and speak professionally, but it’s also how I make sense of the world around me and sort out what’s happening for me internally. So, I journal, nearly every day. I have a slender Waterman fountain pen made of an abalone shell that is perfectly weighted for my hand. I’ll curl up, legs tucked under me in an overstuffed chair, and enjoy the simple pleasure I feel as my hand slips across the paper, my thoughts flowing drop by drop out of my head and onto the page. I learned long ago that if I’m not journaling for several days in a row that’s a sign that something feels stuck in my life and I’d better hit the page.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I think efficiency and productivity have become over-used whips to keep us always on the move, whether we know where we’re going or not. I personally think downtime is essential, and some unstructured time serves me far more useful. Henry Cloud’s book on boundaries was instrumental in helping me unwind the conundrum I always felt around the words Yes & No which led me to be overscheduled and under-rested. I say No a lot more than I used to, which means I can actually say Yes to what matters … seeing a theme here?
To discern to what I will say Yes, I slow things down and listen inside. Like any good radio, when there is a lot of static, it’s hard to tune in. On my best days, I attune, discern what will serve best at that moment, align my choices with that, and, only then, act. On the other days, I’m just like you, frazzled and overworked, but then I remember – Attune, Align, then Act – and do my best to get back on course.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I used to joke that if I ate food the same way I devoured books, someone quickly would suggest I find a treatment center to help sort out my “knowledge consumption disorder!” I started to pay attention to WHY I was reaching for certain books and what I did with what I learned. Just like food, the things I read can serve as energizing fuel or weigh me down like junk. Realizing that there is a difference between intellectual curiosity and thinking someone else has all the answers, I began slowing the pace of my voracious consumption of books to be more intentional about what I read. Now I only pick up another non-fiction book after I have consistently implemented at least one suggestion or idea in the last book I read.
That being said, there are some books that have earned a special place in my life. My copy of Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is held together with a rubber band keeping the highlighted, margin scribbled pages from falling out. I often open its tattered pages at random, allowing the wisdom of the moment to arise.
Well-written books that offer insights are treasures. My hope is that readers find their own unique use for my book The Seller’s Journey, which is written as a business fable to help owners and their advisors navigate the emotional obstacles inherent in selling their business and happily stepping into the next chapter of their own lives.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“It really IS all about the journey and who we choose to accompany us. Let’s help many others take it … together.” That’s my favorite inscription to write inside the cover whenever I gift a copy of my book to someone who has the potential to help others through the most vexing transition in the life of their business – the exit.