5 Ways To Deal With Your Insanity

Many successful entrepreneurs have extraordinary skills for identifying market opportunities, creating a product or service to exploit these possibilities and rapidly building a successful enterprise. They are often poorly equipped to respond to the inevitable challenges of a maturing business that come their way, including general economic shifts and downturns that may warrant a different approach.

Gene started his technology company nearly four years ago and it grew rapidly the first two years. He attracted some very talented engineers and designers, as he focused on continuing to be a leader in his niche. In the third year his business growth slowed appreciably, though his internal financial reports were plagued by numerous errors as he relied on his original Controller who had been with him from “the good old days.” Cash flow also became an increasing issue, further slowing the company’s ability to bring new products to the market. Gene began to diversify into other non-core markets based on suggestions from some of his executive team in the fourth year, though about six months ago, he began laying off some of his administrative employees, while sparing the veteran engineers.

Like most of us, Gene relied on the world view and skills that helped propel his initial success. However, when the market changed he continued with the same approach – and things got worse. When you are in this position (and you will be repeatedly as an executive), here are some possibilities to regain your sanity:

  1. When a marketplace change emerges resist impulsive action and consider your options thoughtfully. Stepping back reduces the likelihood of a flash decision that may commit you to a dubious course and it will increase your credibility as an executive.
  2. Before you act, seek counsel, both internally and externally. This includes sharing what you see and asking others to share what they perceive before you act. Also, some executives actually reach out to competitors who are often willing to share their perception, though not necessarily their strategy.
  3. Make sure you have solid internal reporting, especially financially, and that you are able to rapidly amend projections as you recalibrate your market strategy and tactics. While less sexy than the design and engineering in Gene’s case, you need your best analysis when you are making your most critical decisions. Also, let your employees know what’s happening through consistent communication.
  4. Share your strategy and analysis with key partners, especially lending institutions, Board members, and investors. These stakeholders can be invaluable resources and most prefer inclusion to surprise.
  5. Hand off key responsibilities to peers who are better suited to handle them than you, especially if you are like Gene, the entrepreneur. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs over time eventually reposition or fire themselves in this way.

This latter point is exactly what finally happened to Gene. He realized he was miserable and when he talked with another entrepreneur about his predicament, she suggested the “fire yourself” option. After he made the change, Gene reported to me that “I feel sane again.” Insanity is repeatedly trying to approach life’s challenges with the same unsuccessful approaches – and expecting a different result.