When delivering a training course recently I was asked a question I don’t recall being asked at work for many years, maybe even ever. It was in a break when one of the participants asked me how long I had known my wife. When she’d ascertained my wife and I had known each other for 15 years she asked me an instant follow up question: “Do you love your wife?” That was the surprising question. I talk about many things with managers on a course – ambition, finances, strategy, plans, customers, motivation, etc. but we rarely talk about who we are in love with. It was though an easy one to answer, so I replied with a quick and confident ‘yes’.
As I headed home I thought about the word ‘love’. I would have answered yes to that question 16 years ago when I got a very damp knee whilst proposing to my now wife (on top of a place called Hound Tor in Dartmoor, UK if you are interested). I answered yes when we got married and again on many other occasions when asked be her. However, what I mean by that short little word love is deeply different now to all those years ago. My love for my wife now is filled years of shared living: a family, joint achievements, happy memories, fulfilment and joy. We’ve also lived through some deeply challenging, sad and fearful moments; we are ever more aware of each other’s wonderful characteristics but also each other’s human flaws. The key is that the word love means much more now than it ever did.
So, as the famous singer Tina Turner said, what’s love got to do with it? And the 'it' here is business success.
I work a lot with start-ups and this is where the question I was asked links closely in my mind. Entrepreneurs are often consumed by their business idea; you could describe it as being in love with an idea. They will think about the idea at the expense of many other things, sometimes even the people that they love come second to their new found passion for the business. As the business is formed they have to devote themselves to making it work. Some actually shun pleasures or past-times to forge this new life. This though, can be a cruel relationship with the business demanding ever more to satisfy its needs. In fact it can overwhelm entrepreneurs to their detriment.
Moments of high excitement – that first sale, declaring a profit, finding a solution, winning a big corporate client, the product being produced for the first time, your first employee in place – can all be out shone by the worry and fears around cash flow, security, debts and other uncertainties. However, together the entrepreneur and their business forge a new life.
The big issue for me is: Are founders ready for their love of the business to change?
As a business grows others will be needed to help build the company; can the founder bring themselves to share their precious business with others? The way they interacted with the business at the start – doing all the jobs, living with it 24/7, devoting all their energies to it – will change too: Can they let go of the detail and focus on management and strategy? Could they walk away from the business and close it if it is not profitable, or would they stay with hoping that one day ‘it might change’? Or will they be ready to let go of their business in a different way, to allow it to grow up and stand on its own two feet; maybe even by selling it?
I know the analogy is not a perfect fit for this last question (and I am not advocating ‘selling my spouse’ to anyone else!) but I hope you see the point I’m making. An entrepreneur’s love for their business must change, whether deeper or more distant. They have to consciously re-consider their perspective, assumptions, logic and needs. It can be the difference between being ‘in love’ with a growing business and being overwhelmed or blinded by your love for a struggling business.
So, how about yourself?
Did you start a business some years ago? Are you still ‘in love’ with company or has your perspective changed? What can you do about it to move from settling for the mundane and re-igniting the passion you once had? A savvy business leader will find ways to regenerate their enthusiasm, extend their skill set and refocus their energies. This requires stopping and taking time to think through the question: What do I want in my future and how can I seek to get it? Only you can answer that question and then plan to take the action necessary.