September 26th, 2011 → 10:20 am @ Norman
My wife and I sat in the conservatory this afternoon, enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the light sparkling on the water of the harbour beside which our house is nestled.
She asked me about an entrepreneur I am working with… what was he like? I probed her questions to understand what she was really asking. She had seen the drive, energy, persistence and other desirable behaviours shown by the entrepreneur; but she also saw his weaknesses. He sometimes seemed out of synch with other people’s ways of seeing the world, leading to communications problems and to people distrusting him. He was impatient and had unrealistically high expectations of other people. He talked of what could be as though it already was… did that verge on lying?
I reminded her that entrepreneurs are typically an unbalanced bunch. Nobody can be everything to everybody, and it’s unrealistic to expect someone as focused and driven as a high-growth entrepreneur to be ‘normal’. Nor would many ‘normal’ qualities be of much use: Great patience, and acceptance of the frailties of others are admirable traits in school teachers, but they won’t get a high-performing team assembled and able to deliver dynamically developed products with inadequate resources and against near impossible deadlines.
She accepted my answer, but I felt she was waiting for more. So I said, “Take me for example…” Her reaction showed me that I’d hit on what she was really thinking about, so I continued, “…. Look at the way Stephen [name changed] behaved when I was building company X. He was afraid that he’d be held responsible for any failure, so his focus was on avoiding blame, and ass-covering. I was focused on sales, and on building the team. It was inevitable that he’d see me as a cowboy who wanted to drive forward regardless of the risks, while I saw him as an anchor slowing us down. So friction was inevitable [actually, it came closer to open warfare].
She thought about this and nodded… so I ploughed on…”Now which one of us was normal? Stephen was making deep pronouncements about managing risk, was demanding endless reports, and refused to make decisions until he was very sure he was right…. pretty normal behaviour. I was making decisions on the fly, with less supporting information than I would have liked, was taking calculated risks, and was asking the team to trust that my plan (being developed as we went) was going to work… not very ‘normal’ behaviour.
Entrepreneurs aren’t normal… no wonder that even our wives don’t understand us.