Leadership

3 Signs You Are Your Own Worst Business Enemy

It's hard to be objective about ourselves but if we really pay attention our colleagues will reflect how we are perceived and what it means for the business.
3 Signs You Are Your Own Worst Business Enemy
Image credit: Eric Herchaft | Getty Images
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5 min read
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Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of your own way.

Entrepreneurs and business owners have to keep all the trains running on time, as well as figure out the next place they’d like those trains to go, metaphorically speaking. It’s a huge, complex job. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to realize that in many cases, the problem behind an underperforming company is the boss.

How do you know when it really is “just you,” though? We human beings have a notoriously difficult time being objective about our own behavior and choices.

So, try looking for the following signs in the people and circumstances around you.

1. Your employees seem unusually tense or flat lately.

Has the camaraderie vanished? Is the workplace one big collection of really bad moods, most of the time?

Of course, the boss’s mood can infect the entire office. As the leader of your team, you set the example and the atmosphere, and your employees follow your lead.

Getting along with others, both inside and outside your company, is imperative for success. If your employees and customers sense a negative change, then it’s worth examining your behavior. These signs could be symptoms that you’re becoming a toxic boss.

To address this, first make sure you’re acting with integrity and in accordance with your personal values. Next, make an effort to demonstrate empathy with your employees. You don’t have to agree with every single point they make to do this. Respect their boundaries and try to see the issue from their perspective.

Finally, make sure you listen deeply. Employers who simply command and demand compliance find themselves stuck with the “toxic” label all too quickly. Instead, be curious about your employees’ perspectives and problems. Ask open-ended questions to get them to tell you more, and listen to what they say.

Related: 16 Characteristics of Critical Thinkers

2. You feel deeply frustrated with your employees.

Are you feeling unusually impatient around new workers? Do you find yourself snapping at experienced workers over small annoyances or accidents?

If so, there could be some deeper issues at play.

Insisting on perfection, or even just on competence in an unreasonable amount of time can eventually sour your entire workforce and drive away valuable employees. You’ll have a hard time attracting and retaining talent if you create an awkward, uncomfortable or outright hostile environment.

Instead, try practicing a “talk-down” method on yourself. When you feel your impatience or annoyance growing, mentally talk yourself down from these emotions to a state of greater calm. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • On a scale of one to 100, how bad is this, really?

  • What’s the worst that can happen here, realistically speaking?

  • If that happened, how would we respond?

  • Is this more important than my relationship with my employees? Or my reputation?

In most cases, reflecting on these questions helps you keep small issues in check. You’ll also want to give some thought, however, to whether there’s a bigger issue just beneath the surface. Using smaller problems as a diversion from the bigger ones provides an effective distraction from tackling life’s larger challenges, but doesn’t do much to help us solve underlying issues.

Related: 7 Ways to Boost Employee Morale

3. Minor projects are infinitely refined and “perfected” but your company hasn’t come up with a strong new idea in ages.

One of the most common ways entrepreneurs become their own worst enemies is by focusing too heavily on things that don't deserve so much attention. For whatever reason -- be it fear of failure, fear of success, or something else altogether -- people fall into the habit of spending too much time perfecting existing projects when they should be thinking about what’s next.

Not giving yourself enough time to create and innovate is one of the biggest ways to become your own worst business enemy. Your primary job as the business owner is to create that overarching vision for your company, and then work with your team to figure out how to achieve that vision. If you’re not even allowing yourself the time to do so, you’re fighting an uphill battle without reinforcements. After all, no one else can really do this kind of work for you.

To combat this tendency, try keeping a log of your time for two weeks. Track your time in fifteen minute increments to help figure out where you’re spending the majority of your attention and energy. Then carve out uninterrupted “CEO time,” and schedule it as if it’s a firm appointment you cannot reschedule or miss. Give yourself at least three hours a week to work on new ideas for your company.

Related: 6 Tangible Steps to Launch an MVP Product

Takeaways

It’s hard to be objective about our own behavior and surroundings. Instead, use your colleagues, employees, and environment as a mirror to reflect back to you the reality of how you are perceived and the ways that perception is impacting your business. Then take the appropriate action to mitigate those challenges.

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