That’s an ominous sounding title for this blog – right? But not necessarily for reasons you might be thinking. When most entrepreneurs think about what can “kill them” – in a metaphorical sense – they might list undercapitalization, the inability to hire a qualified and competent workforce, or chronic issues with their product. While these can be serious problems, they are much less severe than the existential threats I’m going to discuss.
I believe that the most menacing threat to an entrepreneur’s existence is his or her own mindset. Do we truly believe we can succeed, or do we feel victimized and constantly under siege? Great entrepreneurs are eternal optimists. We know we can win – there’s no doubt about it. We will pivot when we have to, but we are absolutely convinced that we will reach the Promised Land – whatever that might represent for our endeavor. Entrepreneurs who are too skeptical or pessimistic are destined to fail. They become tentative and can be paralyzed when making important decisions. Negative Nellies will usually crash and burn. They live in a world of lack and limitation. They can’t escape the negative energy that always surrounds them and eventually impacts their team.
Hand-in-hand with the negative mindset is another existential threat – that of low resilience. Look, we entrepreneurs get beaten up a lot. We make a ton of mistakes. We hear from plenty of people who don’t like us or what we are doing. If we can’t get up off the ground when we’re knocked down, then we’ll die lying there – again, metaphorically speaking. And it’s not just the ability to bounce back that’s critical. We do so with a smile on our face and new resolve that we have actually taken a step toward success with our setback. Does that sound contradictory? It’s this kind of thinking – that we’re actually moving forward when it seems that we’re failing – that is the real definition of resilience. The existential threat melts away when we are always tougher than the problems we encounter.
The next existential threat is that of a lack of vision. Entrepreneurs absolutely must be able to see into the future. The ability to be a visionary also leads us to think more strategically and work on our business more than in our business. An entrepreneur who is a good operator but lacks vision will eventually “die.” It may be a slow death, but death nonetheless. Why? Because without a vision – especially one that inspires our team – we are simply stirring the pot. Over time, things begin to unravel. Key people leave because the future is unclear. Important customers leave because a competitor (with vision) has offered a more innovative product or service. Rather than create a clear vision, the operator-entrepreneur takes tactical actions to try and solve the problem. This may include belt-tightening measures or price increases, neither of which addresses the underlying issue. R.I.P.
Poor communications skills are another existential threat to entrepreneurs. This encompasses many elements. The entrepreneur who can’t persuade through artful communications won’t be able to sell his or her ideas to customers, team members or anyone else. The entrepreneur who is unable to communicate effectively will have difficulty building important relationships. When communications are non-existent or garbled at best, misunderstandings will occur and feelings are hurt. I have found that a very large percentage of challenges that we encounter are the result of inadequate communications. Entrepreneurial leaders must communicate clearly, concisely and constantly to eliminate this existential threat.
There’s one more existential threat that’s a biggie. Entrepreneurs who operate without integrity will eventually die. Our stock in trade is our integrity. It matters not how positive and optimistic we are, how strong our ability to bounce back, how grand our vision might be, and how well we communicate, if we lack integrity we’re dead as a doornail. Customers want to do business with entrepreneurs who are honest and forthright. Team members want to work for entrepreneurs who always do the right thing. Of course there are examples abound of CEOs and companies that seem to have “gotten away” with underhanded behavior. It may take a month, a year or even longer, but eventually the jig is up. Maybe it’s karma or there’s some other explanation, but the entrepreneurs who don’t play it straight will lose in the end.
There are many existential threats to entrepreneurship. A negative mindset, low resilience, a lack of vision, poor communications skills and a deficiency in the integrity department, top the list.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.