In my 30 years of working with business owners around the world, both as a consultant and as a psychiatrist, I have developed a keen appreciation for how the magical mind of the entrepreneur operates.
I have learned that what separates successful from frustrated small-business owners is their ability—or inability—to capitalize on their massive psychological strengths and to minimize the carnage that can be wreaked by their weaknesses.
The difference between success and frustration lives in the mind, but it is not IQ or innate talent. It is the ability to make the most of what you’ve got. The great business owner learns how to harness and direct his or her mental power, while the frustrated one spends life trying to learn how.
Entrepreneurs constitute the guts and gusto of our economy. They’re the people who keep us bouncing back no matter how bad things get and the people who break new ground no matter how many times they’re told they can’t go there. They are the business equivalent of farmers—not sitting in boardrooms or looking for bailouts but always out at the crack of dawn plowing the economy, dealing with whatever the weather brings, growing their crops no matter what.
The Psychological Profile of an Entrepreneur
If there is one psychological characteristic that defines entrepreneurs, it is what I call pop: grit combined with imagination and optimism.
People who start their own businesses have a ton of pop. They never give up; they keep inventing new solutions, and they believe in the pot of gold. But a rich, complex and often contradictory set of tendencies combine to define these ragtag rebels and swashbuckling pioneers. I say contradictory because for every positive trait the entrepreneur possesses, he or she usually has a corresponding vulnerability.
Paradoxes prevail in their psychological makeup. In order for entrepreneurs to thrive and achieve their magnificent dreams, they need to learn to overrule their destructive tendencies while taking advantage of their considerable constructive gifts.
But learning how to do this requires insight—knowledge of one’s assets and vulnerabilities—and planning, developing a method to take advantage of strengths and overrule weaknesses.
A big problem is that most entrepreneurs hate to introspect, and they hate even more to plan. They prefer to operate spontaneously according to the Nike solution: Just do it. The Nike solution can work spectacularly well sometimes and has led to the making of many sudden fortunes. But over time it tends to fail and has led to the demise of many such sudden successes.
To help entrepreneurs gain control over their powerful minds, I offer the following compilation of what I’ve learned are the central traits and tendencies of the small-business owner. I couple each asset with a corresponding vulnerability, as it seems these qualities come in Jekyll-and-Hyde pairs.
How to Master Your Mind
As an entrepreneur, you are very lucky. You are blessed with an extraordinarily powerful mind. You have the equivalent of a Ferrari engine for a brain. That’s why you are a winner in the making, a potential champion.
But you must address one major problem that almost every entrepreneur has: You have bicycle brakes. You have difficulty controlling the power of your brain. Sometimes it runs away with you, so you may crash into walls or fail to slow down or stop when you should.
This can cost you the race.
When entrepreneurs learn systems that help them slow down, pause, ask for help, take advice, make a plan, get organized, submit to a certain discipline or think a project through, then their creativity, intuition, enthusiasm and turbocharged brain will generate victory upon victory. But when they do not, I have seen time and again, they crash. Brilliant ideas sit hidden as scrap in the junk heap of failed projects.
A year of hundred-hour workweeks gets destroyed in one hotheaded, impetuous conversation. A sudden insight that solves an industry-wide problem gets scooped up by a competitor due to enthusiastic loose lips, lack of boundaries or inadequate legal counsel. A killer business plan gets dismissed because the entrepreneur failed to show up at the right place at the right time.
Here are some action steps that can help you run your best race:
1. Read the list of assets and vulnerabilities and star those that apply to you.
2. Meet with a partner, friend, colleague or hired consultant, and brainstorm ways to add structures to your life to increase the power of your brakes. Lists, schedules, detailed plans, priorities—these matter! Don’t blow this task off as being too pedestrian or boring. Your success depends on it.
3. If this proves insufficient, consider working with a consultant over a protracted period of time. The skills that you need can be learned, but many of them go against your grain, which is why it is difficult to coach yourself successfully.
4. Try to make sure you are spending the majority of your time at the intersection of three spheres: what you love to do, what you have a special skill at doing and what advances the project, or what someone will pay you to do. Delegate the rest if you possibly can.
As you follow these steps, you will gain a greater feeling of control. Structure creates an atmosphere not of frustration but of positive emotion. This, coupled with the entrepreneur’s innate drive, leads to focus—the magic wand of peak performance.