118: How To Stop Being A Bottleneck in Your Business

PoP podcast episode 118_Karen Sergeant_quotet

Business growth can, at times, feel like you’re on a roller coaster — anticipating the unknown is scary and invigorating. Before you know it you’ve become addicted to the act of climbing and bottoming out — so addicted, in fact, that you feel you have to steer the cart at all times.

Aside from not being a very effective way to run a business, this makes stepping away and trusting a team quite difficult.

As my final interviewee, Karen Sergeant, helps us to understand how to prevent bottleneck behaviors and bridge the gap between good ideas and good execution. Working in the CIA, she cut her teeth in what she calls “the hardest parts of the world” and is using those skills to help small businesses. A pro at surfing ambiguity and uncertainty, Karen has great tips for delegation, creating systematic frameworks, and keeping business fun while also effective.

In this episode we talk about:

  • Walking away from a dream job;
  • The differences in operating as a freelancer and a business owner;
  • What boring money is and why we overlook it;
  • How you know if you need a COO, a project manager, or an integrator;
  • Deciding what ideas to pursue; and
  • The switch from time-based pricing to value-based pricing.


Karen Sergeant is an operations consultant for small businesses whose people are central to their profits—agencies, professional services, and consultancies. Her flagship offering, Bottleneck Rx, helps high-performing leaders get out of the weeds and out of the way so their business can grow.

Described as “unflappable in a war zone,” Karen plays a critical role in businesses that are dealing with team and delegation issues, operating at full capacity, or entering a high-growth season. She has helped clients to achieve 7-figure launches, create new product lines, and architect full-team reorgs—all while avoiding burnout and internal strife.

For 25 years Karen has guided teams in highly ambiguous environments, from CIA counterterrorism operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan to groundbreaking software development at the forefront of the internet boom. As a natural pattern spotter, she can skillfully identify the root symptom of overwhelm, inefficiency, and confusion to speed up confident decision making.

After stints in Silicon Valley, the Capital Beltway, and beachside in Southern California, Karen’s now planted firmly in Tucson braving the dry heat with her doodle puppy, Benny. She holds a Bachelor and Master in International Studies and Master in Public Policy and Practice.



CEO bottleneck behaviors are habits of success that are turning into habits of liability because of your growth.”

It’s a struggle for visionaries not to touch everything as their business grows, simply because they like to fiddle and change their mind.

We have to normalize boring money.

Sometimes you just need to be 20 minutes smarter to help someone.

The key to progress is keeping the main thing the main thing.

Bottleneck behaviors aren’t character flaws. They’re symptoms of growing pains.


“The marketplace can only reward an idea that’s implemented. It doesn’t exist if it’s just in your head.” - Karen Sergeant

“There’s a little bit of inherent tension between creativity and being a business owner.” - Karen Sergeant

“I came to the determination that I had to leave and it broke my heart. Iit still kind of breaks my heart when I talk about it because if you asked me what my dream job was it was that. That’s my dream job and I had to walk away.” - Karen Sergeant

“Online coaching and consulting really is the wild, wild west. You need to be careful about who you invest with and proven their method is.” - Karen Sergeant

“I could tell you how to delegate. I can tell you how to make a project design brief. None of that will work if you haven’t broken up with fire drills and the dopamine hit they give you.” - Karen Sergeant



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