Strategies: Understanding the Dreaded “Entrepreneurial Curse”

Neil Ducoff

Chances are, the dreaded entrepreneurial curse has already found you. In its early stages, you can shake it off without much effort, but over time, it finds its way into your thinking and behavior. It makes you question why you do what do - if all the work and stress is really worth it. As the curse digs in, it saps your energy, motivation and enthusiasm for those things that once fired you up made the business game fun. Its not that you fell out of love with your work and your company; you just have this overwhelming feeling of being stuck.

The entrepreneurial curse is not about being burnt out as much as it is about feelings of being stuck and lost in your own company. Burnout is pretty straightforward and defined as long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. The entrepreneurial curse is much more complex and characterized by increased levels of frustration, disengagement, avoidance, and periods of checking out. Blame is cast in all directions for issues large and small - except where it belongs. There is a preoccupation to find opportunities that are more challenging and worthy of their expertise and efforts. Thoughts of selling and getting out become more frequent.

Left unchecked, the entrepreneurial curse can render a good leader ineffective and do irreparable damage to a company and its culture. Here are some no-compromise thoughts on how to recognize the signs that you have the curse and what to do protect yourself from it if you dont:

  • Time and routine: Nothing gets your entrepreneurial juices flowing faster than starting a company. Everything about it empowers and consumes you in amazing ways. Its the simple and glorious act of creation. But fast-forward five, ten, twenty or more years and a very different scenario is at play. You and the company have settled into a routine. Feelings of being bored, unchallenged, or just tired of fixing the same problems and dealing with the same employee issues preoccupy your thoughts. Your routine has you stuck - not your company or your work. Breaking that routine is tough and often requires the support of a leadership coach.
  • Worthy challenges await you: While youre dreaming of selling your company, getting out and starting a shiny new career that will feed your passion and fire you up, consider all that needs to be done in your company right now. Arent those challenges and projects worthy enough? And heres the kicker; if you were hired as a consultant to fix those identical problems in another company, you would be the kid in a candy store. Youd dive in headfirst, take command and square things away in a matter of months. Problem is, the entrepreneurial curse has convinced you that your current reality sucks. Guess what? It doesnt. You have the best job in the world because youre the leader and you can make change happen. You are powerful - not powerless and stuck. Snap out of it and be the leader your company and your people need.
  • No - dont do it: Im going to hire someone to run my company. Well fearless leader, my recommendation is to flush that idea down the toilet immediately because thats exactly what the entrepreneurial curse wants you do. First, because youve been playing reluctant leader, chances are your company cant afford to hire someone with the skills to run your company. Second, if you can afford it, its not easy to find the right candidate and it will take time to do a search. Third, your company will be in limbo during a transition that could take a year or more to show positive results. Fourth, you hire the right resume but the wrong person and leave you with a bigger mess to clean up. Fifth, and once again, snap out of it and be the leader your company and your people need.
  • Responsibility and accountability: Its your company, your creation and your dream. Even with all of its warts and blemishes (every company has them), you created something extraordinary that you should be proud of. Your company provides the livelihoods for many families - especially your own. And if you had to sacrifice your paycheck so your employees can get theirs, you simply did what entrepreneurs must do when cash flow isnt flowing too well. But when all is said and done, you are responsible and accountable to your company. You are its leader. For now, no one can lead it like you can.

If the entrepreneurial curse got you, you are not alone. The past few years have been tough for even the best leaders. The first step to break the spell of the curse is to recognize that you have it. Only than can you be free to build a plan that re-engages you in your company. You will probably need a coach to guide you through the process of getting back in the game and to hold you accountable to your plan. All great leaders have a coach.

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Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the professional beauty industry. Neil is a business trainer, coach, keynote speaker, an award-winning author, and the creator of the Team-Based Pay System. Neil is the author of Fast Forward, the definitive business resource book for salons and spas, and No-Compromise Leadership, winner of the 2010 IPPY Award for Business. Since 1993, Strategies has been transforming salon and spa businesses into dynamic, profitable, and sustainable team-based cultures. For more information on Neil and Strategies, go to