Man, have I made mistakes in business.
At first, I tried to blame market timing, branding, positioning, and many other reasonable scapegoats. Finally, however, I came to the gut-punching realization that I wasn’t the leader I needed to be. Unnoticed flaws in my own character had quietly sabotaged my projects.
With all the skills we need to master and the deadlines we scream towards, it can be hard to even see how our own character traits matter. But it’s character and personality--especially in the beginning--that end up being the hidden rudder guiding us forward.
The good news is, you can account for your weaknesses if you know what they are. Here are the three silent killers that have sunk me in the past--and what you can do to turn them into your strengths.
It’s easy to become paralyzed by the weight of important decisions. We push them back to “get more research” or “think about it.” We’re almost hoping for some miraculous piece of knowledge to drop from the sky. We want certainty.
Certainty, however, is an illusion. Indecision is rooted in fear.
Legendary business guru Peter F. Drucker said, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” I would add that a successful business means someone made many hard decisions--they developed a habit of it--and made them before they were due. Leaving a decision to the last moment can be just as damaging as not making it at all.
So how do you compensate for indecision if it’s one of your weaknesses?
Start by giving yourself deadlines for all important decisions needed for your home, relationships, and business. Being decisive in your personal life is practice for work.
Then borrow a page from Ray Dalio, the most successful hedge fund manager of our time. He suggests creating a set of decision-making criteria from your own experience. Write down your decisions, reflect on why you made them, and observe their outcomes. This process allows you to develop guiding questions and principles for how you make your best decisions.
“People don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” --William Wallace (Mel Gibson), Braveheart
- ADDICTION TO NOISE
So many new entrepreneurs try to learn by flooding their minds with more knowledge. More courses. More books. More blogs. More Instagram quotes. But their businesses stagnate. Why?
We’re scared, often due to inexperience. So we overcompensate by drowning ourselves in information instead of giving ourselves quiet space to think.
The outcome of careful thought is always focused action.
Napoleon Hill, the author of the all-time best-selling business book, “Think, and Grow Rich” (note: “Think”), says that one of the main reasons people fail to thrive is because they “drift.” Drifters must always have something to occupy their minds--always scrolling through Instagram, watching TV, listening to podcasts & music—because they are scared to be left alone with the power of their own thoughts.
So how to kick your addiction to noise?
Try setting boundaries around your technology. I stopped allowing phones, tablets, and computers in the bedroom (yes, I had to buy an alarm clock). You might decide to turn them off altogether before or after a certain time.
Block out real time for thinking, reading, and creating--more than a few minutes before bed. I only allow myself to consume someone else’s media after I have created something of my own that day. Don’t limit your pondering to business, either.
A deliberately strong interior life is the foundation for a close family, a strong mind, and a meaningful career.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” –Blaise Pascal
- DISORDERED AMBITION
In his 1941 bestselling novel, “What Makes Sammy Run?” Budd Schulberg tells the archetypal story of Sammy Glick, the ruthless, charismatic, success-at-any-cost hustler. The last scene of the book has Sammy sobbing alone in the dining room of his Hollywood mansion. His wealth held no answers for the gaping emptiness in his life.
Yet in a 1989 reprinting, Schulberg noted that America’s repugnance for Sammy had shifted toward admiration. Today, we seem to want to ignore the warnings of these and other Wolf-of-Wall-Street-type tales of depraved “success” and loneliness, instead choosing to glorifying these characters’ hustle and extravagance.
Our culture has made Hustle a religion.
We call money and status “freedom” and pretend that it amounts to success. But the true north of success has been and will always be the development of virtue.
Patience. Courage. Discipline. Self-control. Humility. Service. These are at the heart of every truly successful person and business.
If these become our focus, success becomes a by-product. Business must be a tool to improve the world, not just our bank accounts.
How do you know when your values are disordered, and what can you do about it?
Remember, first, that it is okay to question your own motives and values. Hold up your actions and decisions against a person you admire and know well--a former mentor or parent--and ask yourself, “Would they do that?” You might even get a little perspective by asking yourself, “If this was brought up in my eulogy, would I be okay with that?”
“Remember, when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received—only what you have given.” –St. Francis of Assisi
Our businesses can only grow properly when we grow ourselves. Neurology has proven that bad habits can rarely be directly confronted, but only crowded out by better habits (see The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg).
So make some intentional decisions today. Go for a walk without an iPhone. Review your business goals and make sure magnanimous virtues are on the list.
As you sail the ship of your business and your life, be careful not to neglect those tiny holes, weaknesses of character, slowly dragging down your progress. Better to acknowledge them now than let your ship end up at the bottom of the ocean, wondering what could have been.
“A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.” –John A. Shedd