If you grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, you’ll remember his daily ritual at the beginning of each show. He’d walk into his house, sing a song, go into his closest, change his sweater and shoes, and then go about his day. Of course, at the end of the day he’d go back to that closest to change back into his street shoes and sweater; and then off he went. (Though, come to think of it, no one really knows where he went…or why he had a second home that he stayed at during the day…)
That outfit change while he was singing held a lot of significance. It’s like he was changing into his work uniform. He went to his closest and was able to transform himself into our host for the day. Unfortunately, too many professionals think that they can make this same quick change with their personalities when they transition from their personal life to their professional life. This mistake leads to a whole heap of headaches – especially for entrepreneurs and anyone leading a small business.
Most entrepreneurs don’t fail for the reasons that you think they fail. It’s not because they don’t have fully-formulated business plans, or that they couldn’t build the right teams, or that they couldn’t get the right infusion of cash when they needed it. Sure, these are problems, but they aren’t insurmountable. The biggest problem that entrepreneurs and new business owners face isn’t something that you will find in a business school textbook – it’s what’s happening between their ears.
Many of the factors that lead to business success are intangible – they involve hard-to-nail-down concepts like self-confidence, interpersonal communication, problem-solving, emotional stability, and likeability. But what are the foundations for most of these? It’s not a person’s education or career experience; it’s their personality! And if their personality strengths are going to help them, then it makes sense that they also bring their weaknesses to the game as well. Entrepreneurs want to gloss over the impact that these weaknesses can have, but it’s not that easy to sweep them under the rug.
The problem with the real world is that, unlike Mr. Roger’s house, there are no magic closets that allows you to change who you are as a person in your professional life. Very few humans, unless they are sociopaths, can completely compartmentalize their personalities into the different parts of their lives. Having personal issues isn’t new, and it’s not unusual…we all have them. The problem rests in not acknowledging those issues and managing them.
If you are part of a larger organization, it’s possible to hide your personality or emotional challenges in the group, but you can’t do that when you are putting yourself out there solo or with a small team. If you sometimes put your foot in your mouth and rub people the wrong way at parties, you’re going to do that in business meetings too. If you get caught up in minutiae and can’t make quick decisions about what movie to see on a Friday night, you are going to have problems making critical business decisions. It transfers right over.
Does this mean that every entrepreneurial venture is doomed to fail because of the founder’s foibles? Not necessarily, although the books (and bankruptcy courts) are full of examples where a company collapses because of personality problems. One of the best investments new entrepreneurs can make is in developing an awareness of what makes them tick – what strengths they have and what pitfalls await them based on their personality. Honest identification of the issues can go a long way to alleviating them.
If you are the entrepreneur is this scenario, there are number of proactive steps you can take once you’ve identified your obstacles. Whether it’s building a team that shore up your weak points, taking a class or training, or even working with a therapist; it’s worth finding ways to mitigate the negative effects of your personality. You aren’t going to change into a different person just because you show up at your office or open your business email. This isn’t the “Land of Make-Believe” and you don’t have a magic closet.
You’re betting on your strengths to help you succeed – make sure your weaknesses don’t drag you down at the same time.