In the 28 years since Stephen Covey published The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, his advice has helped millions of people improve their professional lives—from presidents and CEOs to the owners of “Mom & Pop” shops. It’s my observation, however, that for every entrepreneur who’s implemented Covey’s lessons, another has succumbed to bad habits, adopting some (or all) of what I call “the 10 habits of highly ineffective entrepreneurs.” For employees who are content to warm a cubicle, these habits may not be career killers. But for anyone hoping to grow a successful business, they are toxic:
Procrastination. This is one of the biggest problems I’ve seen among entrepreneurs—a consistent failure to act. I know people who are marvelous at generating ideas for new products, services, marketing campaigns, etc., but never implement them. Whether from “analysis paralysis” or inertia, they can’t seem to “pull the trigger.” Although they love their ideas, and love the idea of implementing them, they never take that critical first step toward realizing them. At one time or another, everyone has a great idea. The people who succeed in business, however, are those who transform their ideas into physical realities.
A 9-5 mentality. This is the difference between a serious entrepreneur and someone who’s happy to be an employee. Successful entrepreneurs avoid 9-5 thinking. They know they’ll have to work long hours, be flexible and continuously scan for opportunities. The leader who thinks a company can be launched, managed and grown with just eight hours of daily effort is living in a fantasy world. Running a business is not a job for clock punchers.
A know-it-all mentality. An executive who resists learning new things—who doesn’t feel the need to acquire new skills and knowledge—is setting themselves up for failure. You must always be willing to add new tools to the box. An entrepreneur with a know-it-all mentality is probably unaware of just how much they don't know.
The victim mentality. Even the brightest and most hardworking business owners will sometimes fail. Resilient people will brush themselves off, learn from their mistakes, and try again. Those who adopt a victim mentality will use any excuse (especially blaming others) to justify their failures instead of learning how not to repeat them. If you embrace a victim mentality, you will sabotage your future. It’s important to turn failures into positive lessons instead of dwelling on them.
Overspending. Avoid decisions that will cost your company too much money, especially during the startup phase. Instead, focus on reinvesting profits, being frugal, and tracking how every nickel is spent. Too often, entrepreneurs who enjoy a modicum of success become spendthrifts. They try to emulate the lifestyles of Silicon Valley billionaires while their organizations are still struggling to grow. Even in the best of times, overspending can starve an organization of badly-needed cash. In the worst of times—when the economic climate deteriorates or an industry disruption occurs—it can put the company out of business.
Resistance to self-promotion. Some people are uncomfortable promoting themselves, their businesses and their products. They equate self-promotion with bragging. If this is your view, please understand that there’s nothing inherently narcissistic about self-promotion. Although a poorly designed networking, advertising or social media campaign can come across as egomaniacal, a good strategy will convey the opposite message by focusing on your customers and their needs. In today’s business landscape, it’s essential to promote your company and your thought leadership.
The half-empty glass. The most successful leaders avoid negative thinking. They focus on seeing the glass as half full and on how to make it fuller. They see possibilities instead of pitfalls. A positive mindset promotes long-term thinking. It facilitates a strategic approach to business rather than a reactive, short-term approach.
Listening to negative people. If you associate with people who don’t cultivate the habits of successful entrepreneurs, you may become infected with their negativity. I advise you to avoid people, places and things that might cloud your worldview, dampening your enthusiasm and energy. Whenever possible, associate with people who are positive, action-oriented and resilient. Spend time with like-minded colleagues and potential mentors rather than the naysayers.
Unhealthy choices. Be mindful of your health and avoid bad habits such as excessive drinking and poor eating. A healthy lifestyle contributes to a better mental outlook. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be assaulted by so many stressors that it’s imperative to stay healthy—to maintain peak physical and intellectual fitness. The demands placed on an executive’s body and mind can easily overwhelm someone who’s not getting enough sleep, partying too hard, etc.
A low-energy persona. As a rule, low-energy people are poorly equipped to manage successful companies. Especially when you’re launching a new venture, your staff and colleagues will be looking to you for inspiration, as a source of energy and motivation. It’s important, therefore, to keep your own energy levels high so you can “infect” your workforce (as well as your partners and customers) with your enthusiasm.
Running a business is difficult in the best of circumstances. There are no guarantees that you’ll make it, even if you avoid every item on my list. But you’ll be better positioned to achieve your goals if you don’t hamstring yourself with any of these.