What’s the biggest hurdle to entrepreneurial success? It’s complicated because it depends on the entrepreneur. However, if I were to categorize the issue, I would call it entrepreneurial blindness or blind spots. For each entrepreneur, it’s different but there is always at least one.
Entrepreneurs come into their roles various ways–creating a new product or service to take to market, buying an existing business, working up through an entrepreneurial business and earning an ownership stake, family succession, and let’s be honest–being in the right place at the right time. In other words, dumb luck.
Entrepreneurship and leadership can be a little easier for those who founded a business vs. the other categories just because they’ve had to wear all the hats and survived the ground war of the start-up phase. They may be battle-scarred, but much wiser from lessons learned during the battle. Even so, these entrepreneurs have blind spots that hold the business back just as all the others do.
The Blind Spot
What I mean by this is that the one thing they don’t see becomes the constraint for growth. It can be wearing too many hats, not hiring the right people for the right jobs, inability to delegate, belief that only he or she “knows best,” belief that they are the smartest people in the room, inability to release or hire talent when necessary, inability to accurately predict the future of a product or service, hanging on too long to people, processes or products that no longer serve the organization, and the list goes on and on.
Why do we have these blind spots? Because we are human and humans are imperfect. Plus the human brain can’t actually process all the information coming at it in any given moment so it naturally filters. We see what we believe in and what we focus on and refuse to acknowledge that which we don’t. It’s human nature. As Anais Nin said, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Kids see more than we do because they haven’t built a complete set of beliefs and their central focus of attention isn’t solidified until the late teen years.
For entrepreneurs the blind spot issue can be even worse because ultimately, entrepreneurs live in fear that they will be “found out,” scared to death that someone might figure out that they don’t know it all or discover that they are paddling so fast “under the water” hoping no one will realize they barely know how to swim. It’s called “the imposter syndrome” and it’s part of the entrepreneurial experience. Another reason for blind spots is that often an entrepreneur has one or two areas of greatness or competence when they start the business, but they don’t have every aspect of business covered as an expert. Unfortunately, these one or two areas of expertise lead them to believe that they are omnipotent. When they become the leader of an organization in a position of authority, no one within the team will be honest with them about what’s missing, or what could be done better by someone else. Lastly, entrepreneurs are control people. We don’t believe that anyone can do it as well as we can, and in our desire to control, we give ourselves inflated skill sets, ignoring the fact that it’s not our area of expertise. (Believe me, I learned this one the hard way!)
How To See Your Blind Spot
So how does an entrepreneurial leader get a special mirror that lets them see what they don’t, but others do? The first place to look is to their executive team, (or if they don’t have one, this is the first blind spot). Both long and short-term executives of small businesses can tell you what the entrepreneur doesn’t see–if they are asked–and if there is enough trust that what they say will be heard in a constructive way. It may be difficult for the leader to hear what is said, but he or she will instinctively know what is accurate and what is not.
A second option is an advisor, coach or some type of peer group for advice. In these scenarios the people usually don’t have a vested interest in the business other than to help the entrepreneur be successful so they are often more candid than anyone internally could be. A peer group can be especially helpful because they have often experienced the same issue(s) or blind spots and may have a solution so the entrepreneur won’t have to figure it out on his or her own.
A third option is a more formal board of advisors or “experts” in the areas that the business needs some help. These professionals are usually paid for their expertise and meet monthly, quarterly, or annually, much like larger businesses, to help the organization to succeed. Just make sure it’s not packed with “friends” who will only tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.
Lastly, it starts with the entrepreneur. Be honest with yourself about what you love doing and what you don’t love doing. As I’ve often said–the role of the CEO is to grow their company and grow their people–so within that context, what is the area that you shine at and do better than anyone else and enjoy? Identify that and stick to it as your area of expertise. Are you great at sales? Finance? Marketing? Engineering? Strategy? Operations? Leadership? Empower your executive team to fill in the rest or identify what’s missing and hire or outsource for missing pieces.
The conductor of the orchestra doesn’t play all the instruments, even if he or she knows how. The conductor’s job is to make it all come together to make beautiful music. Start conducting so your company can grow and make the music you heard in your head when you started it.
Mary E. Marshall is the author of Putting Together The Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed (2014). She has spent her career helping entrepreneurs turn their small businesses into successful ventures. In January of 2014, Mary was nominated by the SBA for their Small Business Award. Follow Marshall Advisors on LinkedIn, and subscribe to Mary’s blog at www.mary-marshall.com .