Are you addicted to making it on your own?

By Mike Cook 
For The Bellingham Business Journal

As any business owner will readily admit, or they should, there is no easy answer to why they are successful. The same holds true for managers. Having a great idea for a product or service, wanting to be your own boss, being attracted to being in charge, none of these are sufficient to account for success, or failure for that matter.

In my view, there are two factors that qualify, not necessarily for success as an owner or managers, but certainly as preconditions for having a chance to succeed in the case of either choice. These two factors are also inseparably intertwined and largely the determinants of whether a business grows to realize its fullest potential or a manager ever delivers the value expected of them.

They are: 1) a tolerance for uncertainty, and 2) a willingness to allow others to help. Of the two, a tolerance for uncertainty is the precondition for successful business ownership. Willingness to allow others to help is the precondition for growth.

On the tolerance for uncertainty, this is as much learned practice as it is anything else. In a recent post on Business Insider, business owner and author Peter Sims has this to say about developing the tolerance for uncertainty:

“After about 2 or 3 years of dealing with these uncertainties, everything gets a lot easier.”

So, that’s easy enough, put up with sleepless nights and a stomach ache for two to three years and you too can become a successful business owner or manager. This one condition alone eliminates all those who do not want to take their work home with them. That’s a large part of the population.

The second factor, a willingness to allow others to help, is equally daunting.

We – Americans — live with a legacy of “rugged independence,” but, this alone is not sufficient to account for the reluctance many business owners or managers to allow others to contribute. The legacy of independence has given rise to several fears that often become determinants of behavior in an unconscious manner.

These fears remain unconscious because they are imbedded in a rationale that goes unquestioned, and the unfortunate eventuality is managers fail to develop talent, and business owners suppress the growth of their businesses.

So, what of these fears — what do they look like?

You know how we all have a “book of life according to us?” This is the book that contains all the personalized rules about living that we have each developed over the years. This book contains a lot of truth and things that work. It also contains a lot of things that may have been true once but are no longer, things that were never true, but we prefer these truths because they make us seem right. Quite frankly, a lot of what we have put in the book is designed to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows of daily living.

Clinging to what doesn’t really work is a form of addiction. If you are a business owner or manager and you struggle to grow or find people who meet your expectations you maybe be addicted to one or more of the following fear/belief combinations (credit to Dan Sullivan, creator of The Strategic Coach for generating this list):

1. Unwillingness to trust others.

This comes from the belief that no one else can do things as well as you can.

2. Unwillingness to give up control.

Many owners or managers, after long years of setbacks and successes, become control freaks about every aspect of their responsibility.  This comes from the belief that they are the only one that holds everything together.

3. Fear of dependency.

Having worked for years to gain some degree of independence, many owners or managers tend to see other people as dispensable or disposable — leading to poor support, constant staffing difficulties, and high turnover.

4. Fear that there will be nothing left to do.

This fear comes from the belief that you must justify your existence by being busy, and that other people value you for all the things that you do, and that it is all the activities — not just who you are — that are crucial for your success.

5. Fear of being too concentrated.

In a world where there is so much new information, there is widespread belief, not just among managers but among the general population, that an individual, to be successful, must be deeply involved in all activities affecting his or her work.

6. Guilt about being totally freed up.

As hardworking, risk-taking, and self-reliant as they are, many owners and managers nevertheless feel a considerable amount of guilt because their results and advantages in life are greater than those of other people.

If you find a familiar theme anywhere on this list you may have exposed your addiction.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He teaches in the MBA program at Western Washington University and also runs a CEO peer advisory group in the Whatcom/Skagit area. He can be reached at

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