How the Rookie Crumbles

Getting There

Fixing a personal problem is often the easy part. It's figuring out you have the problem in the first place that can be difficult. Kenneth W. Christian, a Carmichael, California, psychologist for more than 25 years, has rescued numerous entrepreneurs from themselves. If you can figure out you have a problem, he says, the best way to manage your weakness is to "disconnect the trigger." If, for instance, you have a short fuse, you may discover your temper rises with your workload, and you're constantly chewing out your one employee. To deal with an unmanageable workload, you could either hire somebody else or opt to work from home on the days you're likely to blow sky-high.

That's the problem Demetri Argyropoulos faces when employees do things that raise his ire. "It's not so much a short temper," says Argyropoulos, CEO of Prima Consulting Group Inc., a Santa Barbara, California, business talent agency that connects professionals with firms that have business and technical needs. "But I have low tolerance for lack of common sense. I think I have a lot of that, and that's what people really lack."

The 27-year-old entrepreneur readily admits that when expectations for employees aren't met, he sets himself up "for getting pissed off. I don't slam doors or anything like that. But I will maybe insult the person a bit, like 'How could you do such a stupid thing?'"

Argyropoulos doesn't really believe his getting peeved is a problem, and it probably isn't-Prima is almost a $10 million operation, employing 22 people full time-but that may be because he's disconnected the trigger: Argyropoulos has surrounded himself with "some very key personnel who handle a lot of the office relationships. They make my life so much easier. They're able to operate as close [as possible] to the quality that I can produce, and in some regards, they have skills I don't have as well."

But what if you don't know what your weaknesses are? What do you do then? Christian suggests some self-analysis is in order. He indicates that, as with Dorothy and those ruby slippers, the answers have been with you the whole time. "No matter how young and inexperienced in the business world you are, you know if you don't have patience," says Christian. "You have to work on yourself-and create backups, checkups, anything to keep you in some sort of order, if you have a weakness that threatens to distract you from your business."

Picture Imperfect
Kenneth W. Christian is a psychologist and author of Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement. While entrepreneurs as a group are generally overachievers in many areas, they usually compensate by underachieving in other areas. The question remains: How can you discover your weak spots? If you just want to quickly spot-check those weaknesses, Christian suggests these tactics:
  • Ask around. Talk to some of your friends or family members, tell them you're planning on starting a business, and ask them to assess what your weaknesses might be and what's most likely to trip up your company.
  • Look at your career history. Think about the comments you've received over the years, from as far back as elementary school. Chances are, if you were a slob in the seventh grade and your locker needed to be fumigated, you could be facing a future filled with overstuffed, almost useless filing cabinets. "Look for a pattern," urges Christian. "They're always there."
  • Go deep, very deep. In other words, you have to be willing to analyze everything about yourself. Accept the idea that what you thought were your strengths might be weaknesses. Often, Christian observes, we like the idea of changing on our own terms. As he points out in his book, "If you do not prepare well for change, are not open and pliable, and do not pay close attention, you undermine your own attempts to change."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the February 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: How the Rookie Crumbles.

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