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In business, your biggest obstacle is often yourself

Mar 16, 2016 | Business Success and Challenges

Note: This article also appeared in Entrepreneur Middle East, and can be viewed on the site here.

Your entrepreneurial success will be challenged and threatened by many obstacles along the way. Now you probably think the vast majority of these will be outside factors – such as, for example, economic and market conditions. But the real threat is much closer to home, because the real threat is in fact you.

That’s right, the entrepreneur is his or her own worst enemy when it comes to building a business. Our personalities and habits and general complexities are both friend and foe depending on the situation, and so when it comes to succeeding, “managing you” is often the most important task of all.

In this article I want to take a look at six rather serious ways the entrepreneur can get in his or her own way. The key takeaway is to be aware that a big part of your business success will be linked to how “in tune” you are with yourself, and how willing you are to take that honest look in the mirror and recognise how the person staring back needs to change.

The entrepreneur is his or her own worst enemy when it comes to building a business.

1. Dreaming too big

Now don’t get me wrong, the entrepreneur’s dreams and aspirations of achieving great success and possibly making a fortune in the process are not negative things. However, too many aspiring entrepreneurs get a bit ahead of themselves here, and there are a couple of obvious reasons this can be harmful.

On one side it is a pretty big distraction. If you are constantly caught up in the fantasy-level end goal, you are not focusing enough on building value today. Long-term success comes about as a result of the cumulative effects of the daily hard work, and you want to be spending your energy on the journey, not wondering what the destination is going to feel like.

The other big red flag for me with this is that dreaming too big too much of the time is a great way to keep yourself on the emotional roller coaster, which is not a fun place to be. Small setbacks in business (and there are so many along the way) are, for the dreamer, often blown out of proportion because everything that goes wrong is seen as a threat to the end goal.

2. Being too difficult to work with

Are you too difficult to work with? While I’m sure for most of us the answer would be “Hey, I have my good and bad moments”, what you don’t want is to be the person who others just don’t feel comfortable around. If you’re micromanaging employees, ruling like a dictator, hot and cold on the mood front, or just a royal pain in the you know what, then work on yourself.

The entrepreneur needs to get along well with others and lead properly, and this is something that does not come naturally for many people. So if you are one of those “many”, don’t panic, just know that you have some work to do. Because if you rant and rave whenever things go wrong or make your team feel as though they are always falling short of expectations, you will be unable to build.

3. Being afraid

It could be the fear of ending up one of the 90% of startups that ultimately fail, or the fear that your product or service will prove unsuccessful once brought to market, or – once you have already got your company successfully up and running – the fear that it could at any time come spectacularly crashing down.

Well I’ve got news for you: fear is always going to be there, and so it is up to you to power through despite it. There is an incredible amount of missed opportunity in this world due to ventures never taken because an otherwise talented and capable individual was held back by fear. In fact, according to research out of the UK released as part of an initiative called  “Business is GREAT”, which encourages entrepreneurs to “take the leap”, 78% of would-be entrepreneurs put off launching their own business purely because they were afraid. 

There is an incredible amount of missed opportunity in this world due to ventures never taken because an otherwise talented and capable individual was held back by fear.


4. Not liking what you do

There is a much-quoted line that gets thrown around by successful people across all fields: “Love what you do”. While that is a nice sentiment, I note that it is usually only ever said by those who have already made it to the top. I think better to say “try and enjoy what you do”, or “definitely don’t dislike what you do.”

At any rate, the general idea is the same, and that is to find something you have somewhat of a passion for. I’ll add here that I believe you should try and find it within your current area of expertise. If you don’t like what you do, this does not necessarily have to mean a complete career change. In fact, it often means just looking deeper into your own field for opportunities or “a spin” that could excite you.


5. Being negative

A study by the University of North Carolina found that positivity broadens our sense of possibilities, which in turn allows us to build new skills and resources that we may never have acquired otherwise. And while I am pretty certain that none of us need a study to remind us of the power of positivity, what I do believe is that many of us struggle to maintain a positive outlook enough of the time.

Yes, it can be very hard for many people, but as a leader you absolutely must be positive in your outlook and in the energy you convey. While positivity is contagious, negativity is even more so, and because you will have to anyway get the job done, make it easier on yourself and everyone around you by putting on a brave face.

Can you force yourself to be positive? No, but you can learn this skill, and at the core here is to see things as challenges rather than problems.

To avoid sounding banal or trite I won’t go further with this one – you’ve heard this before – but know how important this one is. This is not about daily affirmations and that sort of nonsense. This is about driving results for your business.

6. Jumping from idea to idea

Focus, people, focus. Anyone who starts a business should believe that they have an idea that can be a success. But when the going gets tough (and let’s face it, it is always in some ways tough), for far too many the next idea starts to form as a sort of “magical saviour”.

And that I truly believe is at the core of this particular “jumping around” affliction. It’s not that there is necessarily a desire to bring a ton of great ideas to life; rather, it is because people think that if something is not working great right out of the starting gates, it should be abandoned for something better.

Fortune magazine recently listed lack of focus at number 11 in their top 20 reasons why businesses fail, but I believe it is probably closer to the number one spot. And that’s because focus is after all very tightly tied to execution, and while everyone has ideas, only the true entrepreneur executes them brilliantly enough to turn them into something of financial value.

Steve Jobs famously instilled the need to stay focused on the job, and one of my favourite sayings by the late Apple founder is the following: “The hardest decisions we make are all the things not to work on.”

Fortune magazine recently listed lack of focus at number 11 in their top 20 reasons why businesses fail.

Keep improving

It doesn’t matter who you are or how successful your business is, if you stand still you will eventually be overtaken. Just ask the likes of Myspace or Nokia! If you are not making any forward progress, then I am afraid to say you could already be in decline – and you can bet your competitors who are hot on your heels will not be slowing anytime soon.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Or to put it another way, the only way to truly be considered a success is to keep getting better. The above six points are, to that end, all about that. Never stop working on improving the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, because there is not much harder a journey in life than this one.

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