The Self-Defeating Entrepreneur

My beloved Kansas City Chiefs NFL football team did not go to the Super Bowl on February 13, 2022. They were maddening to watch during the season and through the playoffs. The talent on the team is off-the-charts incredible. For four straight seasons, they played in the AFC Championship Game, two Super Bowls, winning one. Why didn’t they advance to the Big Game in 2022? Very simply – they beat themselves. They lost several games during the regular season by beating themselves. But the AFC Championship Game versus the Cincinnati Bengals was the ultimate demonstration of this self-defeating notion.

The Chiefs were ahead 21-3 well into the first half and clearly were stronger and faster than the Bengals. The game should have been a blowout for the Chiefs playing in front of their home crowd in the loudest stadium in the world. And yet, they lost by a field goal in overtime. How did this happen? At the end of the first half, it was first and goal on the one-yard line. Rather than bulldoze the ball into the end zone, they misfired a couple times and used their last timeout. On third down, the quarterback swung a pass to a receiver who was well-covered and tackled behind the line of scrimmage as the clock ran out. All the QB had to do was throw the ball away and bring on the kicker for a last second field goal. Instead, the momentum swung away, and the team was shell-shocked coming out of the locker room at halftime. In the second half, the Bengals dropped eight men in coverage and rushed three defenders. Rather than take advantage of this situation by running the ball, the Chiefs proceeded to continue passing – unsuccessfully – resulting in multiple punts and interceptions. Cincinnati grabbed the momentum and ended up winning the game and going to the Super Bowl. Had Kansas City made slight adjustments and played its game, there is no question that they would have won in decisive fashion.

What transpired at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on January 30, 2022, was a classic case of Self Defeat. And this is something that some entrepreneurs tend to do every day. We go on a winning streak for a while and think we have it all figured out. Then we get cute and cocky one day, or we shortcut the basics and fundamentals, and voilà – we hit the wall. This may be followed by “locker kicking” or rants about how the deck was stacked against us, or a competitor played dirty pool. But in the end, we beat ourselves. Had we followed our game plan and made the adjustments necessary we would likely have continued to win.

How do we avoid the Self Defeat Trap? We must never take our success for granted. We work hard to succeed and just when we believe that it is going to be easy, we stub our toe. Perhaps we made it a practice to regularly write notes of gratitude to our key customers and check in with them by phone periodically. Then things seem to be going well and we stop sending the notes and making the calls. The next thing we know, a major customer has walked out the door – not necessarily because we stopped with the notes and the calls, but because we stopped paying attention and missed signs of dissatisfaction. We must reinforce the basics and fundamentals that led to our success and always keep them front and center.

Then, we must look for how and when we need to adjust our approach. If we simply continue to power along the way every day, we may beat ourselves because we missed subtle signals that would have told us an adjustment was in order if only we had watched for them. Back to the previous example. Maybe the notes of gratitude and the check-in calls worked just fine for several years. But on one such call the customer mentioned that he’d love to see us in person someday. The smart entrepreneur gets on an airplane and goes to visit the customer in-person. The Self-Defeating entrepreneur doesn’t pay attention to what the customer said and continues sending notes and making phone calls. Then a competitor waltzes in to see the customer in-person and the rest is history.

We entrepreneurs can stop beating ourselves if we avoid taking our success for granted, maintaining a disciplined approach to the basics and fundamentals that have enabled us to win, and paying attention to the signals that tell when to adjust our strategy and tactics. If we do this, our chances of winning our own Super Bowl will increase exponentially.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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