Managing Your Entrepreneurial Defense System

I’ve been thinking about this concept recently, that successful entrepreneurs have too many people talking to them, each with some nugget that would change their lives. Goodness–you could do nothing but listen to advice all day long and not really make any decisions or progress!

The endless stream of coaching comes from your employees, the owner you bought the agency from, the guy in your business roundtable who always seems to have that idea for you, the newest business book, and your significant other. Oh, and your clients.

The successful entrepreneur builds a powerful defense system that keeps unqualified outside voices at bay. That leader is somewhat self-assured, makes decisions, recognizes and corrects mistakes quickly, and listens to a few people who have proven to be reliable guides in their lives. They succeed in part because they do NOT listen to people.

There is more danger in listening to too many people than listening to too few of them, but here are a few suggestions about how to narrow down the list of voices in your head:

  • Skip most of the business books, generally. Gravitate toward substantive ones that pass the smell test. I’ll take Simon Sinek and not Tim Ferriss, thank you very much.
  • Listen to folks who articulate careful arguments rather than pontificate. Are they convincing you so that you instinctively believe it?
  • Hear the themes rather than the individual voices. Are you regularly told that your projections are too optimistic? That you don’t celebrate success sufficiently? That you can’t make tough decisions? Look for the broad truths.
  • Having just said that, don’t discount advice because it’s in the minority…or even outside your industry. Strong leadership and change nearly always come from someone who sees the lemmings headed toward a cliff and alters course beforehand.
  • Back way above the earth and have a perspective on people, how change happens, anthropology, history, marketing, organizational development, and so on.
  • Be a world citizen. Stay away from first world solutions.
  • Listen to the people who know and care about you, particularly if approaching you requires courage. They have something to lose when you don’t listen, but they care about your well-being, too, and their honesty comes at a personal cost. They care and they don’t have as many dogs in the fight.
  • Has this person demonstrated personal success in whatever they are advising you about? If you want advice on making money, listen to people who–at least as part of the criteria–make money. How about sales? Managing people? Pricing?

I’ll leave you with the main point again: entrepreneurs have developed strong defense mechanisms to do their job without too much external interference. Just know when you should let an outside advisor–professional or not–slip through the fence to help you be a better business decision maker.

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