How entrepreneurs fall out of love with their business

After the thrill of the new venture, sometimes the romance fades.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 15 Feb 2017

We don’t much like hero leaders in the corporate world. Who’d want to be led by a hubristic narcissist who refuses to listen and insists they’re always right? Yet when it comes to entrepreneurs (and possibly politicians...), we just can’t get enough of them.

The internet is awash with what psychologist and MT columnist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic calls ‘entrepreneurship porn’ – tales of superhuman, hyper-motivated geniuses performing market miracles against improbable odds.

Much of it is true, in a way: entrepreneurs do a heroic job in growing the economy at their own personal risk. But once you’ve met a few, you realise they are still just people, like the rest of us. And like the rest of us, they sometimes lose motivation.

In a study by accountants Haines Watts, 58% of UK business owners admitted to occasionally losing motivation to run their company, with 35% experiencing a ‘complete loss of motivation’ at least once a year.

You don’t often read about that because it goes against type, but in many ways it makes a lot of sense. Another statistic gives a clue as to why. The study, of 500 entrepreneurs, found demotivation peaked among those with businesses turning over £20-£50m.

‘While this might seem paradoxical, one client explained how he thrived on the uncertainty of starting a new business venture and the drive that came from having a heavy debt ledger,’ explains Haines Watt’s managing partner David Fort. ‘After achieving sustained growth, and with those debt related pressures firmly in the past, he struggled to find the same sense of drive and purpose and lapsed at times into boredom and apathy.’

If starting a business has all the excitement and anxiety of budding romance, then growing it over the next decade or so is the equivalent of being married with three kids: less glamorous, if ultimately more rewarding.

Leading or growing an established business is necessarily a slower-paced, lower-risk job. Your pitches won’t be life and death, you won’t double turnover in six months, you won’t be experiencing something totally new every day.

It requires both more patience and the ability to delegate: entrepreneurs who are unable to let go can easily get sucked into micromanaging an increasingly large workforce, usually with disastrous results.

Indeed, there’s no particular reason why having the skills involved in being a great business person – for instance strategic vision or the ability to make great deals – should automatically qualify a person to be a great leader or manager. Maybe some entrepreneurs are just better suited to the sprint, rather than the marathon. That’s what professional managers are for.

How to rekindle your business relationship

There are things you restless entrepreneurs can do, of course, other than ditching your business and running off with the latest venture idea that pops into your mind.

For a start, you can embrace the changing nature of your work and keep learning. ‘There’s a myth that being good at what you do means that further training isn’t necessary. Take the examples of Andy Murray and Rory McIlroy. Both have been the best in the world at what they do, but they still have coaches,’ says Fort.

The entrepreneur – hero or otherwise – also needs a support network. At work, surround yourself with smart people you can trust to challenge you. Build a network of advisors and other entrepreneurs to give you perspective and keep you on your toes.

Just as importantly, don’t neglect your personal life. Haines Watt’s study found family as the main re-motivating factor for business owners, with 52% citing it. As our columnist Faisal Butt recently opined, family or a life partner can be ‘the confidante, the nurturer, the therapist, the biggest critic, the undying fan, and the life coach, all bundled into one.’

A romantic dinner might just be better for your business than another late night at the office. Who knew?


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