You've been praised for your skill at mastering detail, or your ability to work by yourself, or your assertiveness. in fact, you even credit your business' success to these traits that, you must humbly admit, come naturally to you.
But don't get too comfortable. Psychotherapist Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., co-founder of Corporate Coaching International (with offices in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Jakarta, Indonesia), says the very strengths on which you built your success might eventually become your undoing--unless you balance them with other abilities. When faced with the possibility of failure, she explains, we tend to do much more of what helped us succeed in the past. Turning up the volume, however, is often counterproductive to success: Excessive attention to detail can result in having too narrow a focus, the flip side to being a self-starter could be an inability to work with others, and assertiveness can turn into abrasiveness.
Frankel provides case studies and a battle plan for self-improvement in Overcoming Your Strengths: 8 Reasons Why Successful People Derail and How to Get Back on Track (retitled in paperback as Jump-Start Your Career: How the "Strengths" That Got You Where You Are Today Can Hold You Back Tomorrow, published by Three Rivers Press). Frankel's insights, gained from 20 years of experience in the human resources field, can help entrepreneurs attain a better understanding of themselves as well as learn how best to manage their employees. Learning to recognize your real weaknesses could go far in helping your business succeed where others have failed.
To help you understand the complicated issues of the psychology of staying successful, we asked Dr. Frankel to give our readers an introduction to the subject.
Scott S. Smith:How would a successful business owner begin to recognize behavior patterns that could cause his or her business to fail?
Dr. Lois P. Frankel: The issue is, how do you continue to grow? Often, successful people do superstitious things; they repeat behavior that worked in the past when they get into trouble. But an infrequently talked about fact of business is that at some point, technical expertise ceases to be the key factor in a business' success.
Research shows that nine out of 10 people come from families that have some type of dysfunction, such as alcoholism, depression or inappropriate behavior, and these individuals cultivate personality traits that can lead to failure. But even people from healthy families can be programmed for difficulties, because they don't see their personality weaknesses objectively. Getting the perspective of a professional outsider can help you identify these weaknesses and give you an idea of how to complement your strengths. That might mean coaching or psychotherapy, doing a formal feedback survey from colleagues, reading a self-help book, attending a personal transformation seminar or some other alternative.
Smith:What's a good way to begin understanding yourself?
Frankel: The Myers-Briggs Type indicator is an inventory I've found invaluable in assessing communication styles. It shows preferences in four areas: what energizes you, what you pay attention to, how you want to live life and how you make decisions. There are 16 personality types. It can help you understand not only yourself, but your employees as well. The test is available from Consulting Psychologists Press at (800) 624-1765, or you can get something similar at www.keirsey.com.
Smith:What about perfectionism and workaholism?
Frankel: Many entrepreneurs think if they don't work long, hard hours and do things perfectly, they won't be successful. These are the hardest traits to change because they clearly got these people to where they are, and a voice in their heads from childhood says they aren't good enough unless they do these things. Identity gets bound up with this, and sometimes it requires therapy to break loose from that.
Entrepreneurs need to look at spending their time as they do their money--by deciding what portion will be apportioned for their top five priorities, and then when they've spent the allotted time on each part, they stop. Anyone who suffers from being a perfectionist or workaholic should start by making incremental changes, like reducing the time at work by 10 percent, rather than trying to make an abrupt change, which could [cause upheaval personally and in the business].
Smith:Why do entrepreneurs tend to want to do everything themselves?
Frankel: Micromanaging is a trait we may have learned in childhood as a way of trying to control things. People with this tendency should read Eric Flamholtz's and Yvonne Randle's Growing Pains: How To Make the Transition From Entrepreneurship to a Professional Managed Firm [Jossey-Bass Publishers]. You have to get comfortable delegating authority if you want your business to grow. Many business owners delegate responsibility but not authority. You must realistically analyze which of your employees have the strengths that will allow you to let some aspects of the work go and know they will come back OK. You have to build bench strength.
Smith:What about entrepreneurs who have the big vision but have a hard time focusing on details?
Frankel: The big-picture types, like everyone else, need to surround themselves with other perspectives and talents. They need sounding boards who can show them the practical ramifications of an idea.
Smith:You list condescension, abrasiveness, belligerence, blaming others and insensitivity as "deadly character traits." What are the traits of a successful personality?
Frankel: Do people want to hang around you? That's the bottom line. I list eight traits in my book that successful people cultivate: noticing the importance of people, working effectively with a group, paying attention to how you communicate, being sensitive to others, working well with those who have authority over you, balancing the big picture with the details, being aware of customer needs and learning to network.
Smith:Many of these traits seem to involve building healthy business relationships with and among employees, and with those with whom you do business. How can entrepreneurs accomplish this?
Frankel: Remember birthdays and important information. If someone says his or her mother is going into the hospital, don't forget that. Take employees to lunch once in a while, and do something special for holidays. Entrepreneurs are often so driven, they forget the niceties.
Employees should make a point of going out to lunch together from time to time, and you should encourage this. If someone has expressed an interest in the Yankees, bring in an article you see about them that shows you heard and remembered what they said.
Smith:How can you improve your listening skills?
Frankel: As Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of Charles, once said, `You can't listen without surrendering.' You have to put your needs second to those of the person who is speaking. Paraphrase what you just heard, ask questions that show you heard, and reflect the feelings they're expressing [without sounding forced].
Smith:What about being kind or honest? Can there be too much of a good thing?
Frankel: We all grew up with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But real kindness goes a step further: Treat others as they want to be treated. Kindness goes beyond relationship-building because it encompasses what you do when there's no quid pro quo, when getting something in return for what you do. You should be kind not because someone is going to compensate you or reminds you to be kind, but because you want to make a difference in the lives of those around you. If you find this hard to do at first, [realize that] with practice, it will become genuine. If you're insincere and inconsistent, people will find out.
As for honesty, kindness has to be part of it. There's a difference between being brutally honest, which would be too much of a good thing, and being direct. To do it right, you need to tell the person why you're having the conversation, listen fully to their point of view, and decide what outcome is suitable for both of you. Your reputation as being appropriately honest and kind will affect not only your personal relationships, but your business ones as well.
Smith:What are some ways to improve teamwork?
Frankel: It starts in strategy meetings. Praise the ideas you like best; you build credit that way. Act as a facilitator between comparing views. Invite quieter members of the group to speak up. When it comes to working out the results, give everyone something interesting to do that uses their skills to the best advantage in a collaborative situation. Don't take all the best parts for yourself. Whatever you're working on, invite input from others.
Smith:You comment that "so many corporations suffer from a lack of creativity." Why is that?
Frankel: In school, we train kids to think in a linear way. Thomas Edison had to be taken out of school [because he couldn't think this way]. The key to encouraging creativity is to expand the playing field of acceptable behavior, then when someone gets innovative or provides a different perspective, reward them regardless of what you think of the idea.
Smith:You cite the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain as a model of enlightened management. What can other businesses learn from them?
Frankel: When you ask the Ritz-Carlton's employees what they do, they all say they're ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. The company instills a sense of self-worth. They also cross-train employees so they're all empowered to do whatever is needed to fulfill the needs of their guests. Every employee has a budget, and if a guest asks the guy making the coffee for masking tape, he can go out and buy some and it comes out of his budget. He doesn't have to get approval.
Smith:You talk about the importance of having a "can-do" attitude, but what if employees don't have that?
Frankel: Often this is situational. If an employee doesn't seem enthusiastic about his or her job, you probably have the wrong person doing it. The Myers-Briggs test can tell you what types of people fit certain kinds of jobs. In your initial interview, you need to screen for the behaviors you want. Positive self-talk tapes can also help instill the right attitude.
Smith:You strongly recommend networking as a way of expanding a person's perspective and skill set. What if an entrepreneur just doesn't have the time?
Frankel: No one sells a company better than its owner, and this is something that needs to be done regularly-- worked into the schedule even if other things have to be worked around it. Learning to give up trying to do everything yourself will free up the needed time. And encourage employees to network--as long as they get the rest of their jobs done.
Scott S. Smith says that since freelance writing is a pretty crazy profession, he's seeing a psychotherapist who happens to be a former journalist.