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  • Writer's pictureDel Chatterson

Biggest Entrepreneur Mistake #7 – Getting too personal

Biggest Entrepreneur Mistake #7

Getting too personal

(An extract from DON’T DO IT THE HARD WAY – Avoid the Seven Biggest Mistakes that Entrepreneurs Make.)

I’m NOT your mother!

Personal issues that can interfere with the success of your business:

  1. Are family members in or out of the business?

  2. Should employees be treated like family?

It can be complicated to maintain the right balance between your personal objectives and family role and your responsibilities to the business.

How do you include family members that are interested and capable and still give employees who are not part of the family the same level of satisfaction? Can you make them feel they are valued as effective members of the team without being members of the family? That they still might be the boss someday? How can you treat them like part of the family without confusing the boundaries between boss and employee? Can you even be friends with your employees?

You have to make choices in your management style. I’ve seen them all – from rough use-and-abuse them managers to the paternalistic godfather who insists on getting involved in the personal lives of all his employees. The abusive, controlling style is dysfunctional because it requires micro-management of every detail and creates an environment where employees just try to stay out of trouble and avoid mistakes. But the paternalistic style often goes too far in the other direction creating a sense of complacent dependency, relieving employees of their sense of responsibility and reducing their willingness to take initiative and make independent decisions.

My recommendation is for a management style that is respectful and generous, but encourages employees to think and act like part-owners of the business. Encouraging a sense of responsibility and a willingness to take initiative, even if it means accepting mistakes and their consequences. That style also makes it easier to manage the business and eventually to exit, as the business becomes much less dependent on the owner-manager.

Distracted by Personal Issues

Unfortunately, you can still be distracted by personalities and personal issues that may seriously affect business performance. The distracting personality may be an owner, manager or employee and it can be a mistake if the issues are simply ignored until they become a problem.

Business or Family First?

Family businesses have particular issues to navigate and family members in the business add new challenges. Family members can usually be trusted to take good care of the business. Sometimes, however, that can be a problem too - being too protective of family interests to the point of being paranoid and obsessively micro-managing every detail.

However, family members can still have a powerful influence, especially your parents. I don’t know about you, but I’m still trying to impress my mother and follow the advice of my father.

Listen to Mom

Most entrepreneurs and executives probably don't often think about their mothers on the job – unless she's the boss, like Ma Boyle at Columbia Sportswear. Maybe they should. We’d probably have fewer issues of corporate misconduct if the executives’ mothers knew what was going on. Would your mother be proud of you if she knew what you were doing?

That's why I recommend you use the test ‘What would Mom think?’ before making difficult ethical decisions in your business.

But I am not your mother

I’m suggesting that we might have better decision-making if we asked ourselves what Mom would think. But what about those employees who expect you to act like their mother?

What’s the right level of caring and compassion before it becomes more personal than a working relationship should be? Is there a reasonable limit? Is it appropriate to get involved with issues that are strictly personal? Do employees become part of your extended family with all the additional obligations that implies?

Once managers start offering a sympathetic ear and then a shoulder to cry on, it soon becomes more time-consuming on and off the job and creates a relationship that is difficult to steer back to business only. It also becomes a distraction for other employees and creates new concerns about employee favouritism.

My guideline for these situations would be to decide whether you would, or should, do what is being requested for every employee in the same situation. Offer financial advice or a cash advance? Special working hours or more time off? Bring the kids or the dog to the office? If you would rather not apply the same decision to everyone who might ask, then say no to the first request. Don't start a precedent that you're not prepared to offer to everyone and write into your corporate policy manual. You do have a policy manual, right?

Don't be afraid to clarify the relationship. “I'm your boss, not your mother. This is a business, not a social service."

Don’t make the Biggest Entrepreneur Mistake #7 – Getting too personal

Be better. Do Better. Be an Enlightened Entrepreneur.

Del Chatterson, your Uncle Ralph

Learn more about Enlightened Entrepreneurship at: Read more of Uncle Ralph's advice for Entrepreneurs in Don't Do It the Hard Way & The Complete Do-It-Yourself Guide to Business Plans - 2020 Editions.

Read more Blog posts at: LearningEntrepreneurship Blogs

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