Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach who works mainly with entrepreneurs. He has identified five annoying habits that the best entrepreneurs share. The same personality that helps individual succeed also hinders the same individuals in certain social situations.
I’m not a fan of broad generalizations, so I wouldn’t say that all entrepreneurs act a certain way. Also, I wouldn’t say that these traits are only exhibited by successful entrepreneurs. Goldsmith made these observations, and maybe you know someone who fits some of these characteristics.
1. The competitive drive. Entrepreneurs constantly need to prove they are better than their competitors. Successful entrepreneurs are able to “toot their own horn without blowing it.” Competition is healty when it is a source of motivation, but there are some situations when it’s not socially acceptable.
Say you’ve had a hard day at work; you come home and your partner says, “I had a hard day today.” You say, “You had a hard day! You had a hard day! You wouldn’t believe the kind of day I had.” They’re so competitive that they have to prove they’re more miserable than the person they live with.
2. Shutting down others’ thoughts. Goldsmith explains this by describing how entrepreneurs will start sentences with “but,” “no,” or “however.” This basically is communicating, “You’re wrong and what I have to say is correct.”
“No,” “but,” or “however” means disregard everything that came before this word. Basically what you’re telling the person is shut up.
3. Adding too much value. An entrepreneur in a management position knows her business well — so well, that when suggestions are brought to this entrepreneur, she will improve it, making it her own. This has some consequences. From Goldsmith’s point of view:
The quality of the idea may go up 5 percent, but my commitment to its execution may go down 50 percent, because now it’s your idea, not mine. It’s hard for an entrepreneur to realize that the effectiveness of execution is a function of the quality of the idea times this human being’s commitment to make it work.
4. Playing favorites. This sounds like an overgeneralization, but Goldsmith says that entrepreneurs claim they don’t like suck-ups, yet they unknowingly or knowingly favor those who fit that description, and this allows the sucking-up to continue.
To avoid playing favorites, ask yourself four questions. First, how much do your employees actually like you? You don’t know how much they like you – it doesn’t matter. It’s how much you think they like you. Second, ask how much are they like me? Owners who are engineers are often guilty of this. They’ll say, “The employee may be a jerk, but that’s okay, because he’s one of us, he’s an engineer. “How much do they remind me of that ever so wonderful me? Third, how much do they contribute to our company, and fourth, how much personal recognition do I give them?
5. Obsession with goals. Goal setting, mapping out a path, and getting things done to achieve that goal is exactly what makes successful entrepreneurs successful. You pay for that obsession in personal relationships.
I worked with a guy on Wall Street who was clocking 80 hours a week, and he said he was doing it because he needed to make a lot of money. When I asked him why, he said that he’d been married three times, and “Do you know how much alimony I pay?” Then I asked, “Why have you been married three times?” He replied, “None of my wives understood how hard I had to work…” Entrepreneurs kill themselves, literally. They work themselves to death, they don’t get physical exams, their health goes straight to hell. For what? You have to find balance.
Looking back to You Call the Shots, by Cameron Johnson [my review], I see these traits in this example of a successful entrepreneur. I can see these traits in other successful individuals, regardless of whether they are entrepreneurs. There is social feedback at play.
Are there other traits that might be helpful to those wishing to succeed as entrepreneurs but detrimental when exhibited in social situations?
Published or updated April 17, 2007.