As an entrepreneur, you’d like to think that the majority of your success will depend on objective factors; if your products and services are high quality, you make the right decisions, and if your timing is right, you’ll be successful. These are important factors for success, to be sure, but they’re only a piece of the puzzle. Don’t forget that your company is going to be run by, competed with, and manipulated by people, and those people are going to have a massive impact on how successful your company is.
On the negative end of the spectrum, these five people have the potential to destroy your business:
1. The Stubborn Partner. The term “partner” here can be applied loosely — this may be a literal partner, with whom you share ownership of the business, or an informal partner, such as a cornerstone employee or a mentor. The point is, this person has a vested interest in the decision making process, and they’re unwilling to budge on their opinions. This isn’t the same as consistently expressing a different opinion, or even sticking to their guns on a handful of select issues; instead, this is a repeated and predictable tendency to be unwilling to entertain alternative options. This is bad for two reasons. First, you’ll have less of a say in what eventually happens to your business, leaving control in external hands. Second, the fewer discussions you have, the less comprehensively you’ll be able to brainstorm.
2. The Negative Employee. You might think that the level of the employee in question has a significant bearing on the effects of his negativity — for example, a star developer and team leader with a negative attitude might be more damaging than a new secretary or assistant — but this isn’t always the case. Negativity, manifested as habitual complaining, pessimism, apathy, or dourness, is dangerous on one level because it affects productivity and brand loyalty; unhappy, negative workers get less done and are more likely to leave. But it’s dangerous on a more significant level because it’s infectious. One vocally negative worker can affect your entire team. Fortunately, positivity is similarly spreadable if you have the right people carrying a positive attitude.
3. The Toxic Client. In the early stages of your startup’s growth, you’ll put clients on a pedestal. Yes, clients are important, and you should do everything you can to maximize the number of clients you acquire early on and keep them happy for as long as possible. But there are rare cases when a client is doing you more harm than good, and at that point, you need to cut ties before things get any worse. A toxic client will never be happy — they’ll make strange demands that exceed your capabilities, complain when things aren’t perfect, refuse to cooperate, and may end up costing you more money than they’re spending on you (not to mention, destroying your team’s morale). It’s not worth it.
4. The Antagonist. I haven’t identified the antagonist as belonging to a certain role (partner, employee, client, etc.) because it can actually manifest itself in any area. The antagonist is more than just apathetic about your business or destructive on their own terms; they take actions that actively hold your business back. Though not always manifested in an act of deliberate or obvious sabotage, the antagonist’s recurring actions seem to align themselves against your eventual success. For example, a worker may refuse to cooperate, a partner may undermine your directives, or a client may ignore your advice and blame you for it later.
5. Yourself. Don’t forget that you’re the most important person in your startup, and you’re perfectly capable of self-sabotage. You may not realize it, but your fears, apprehensions, and biases may actively interfere with your ability to make good decisions or perform your work. To make matters worse, it’s harder to spot these traits in yourself than it is other people — so you may never even know you’re doing it. Try to stay open and introspective throughout your tenure as an entrepreneur, and always be willing to hear outside feedback.
Before you get worried about who’s going to be responsible for your startup’s demise, remember that there are plenty of people on the positive end of the spectrum, including yourself, if you allow yourself to be there. There are the supporters, the negotiators, the believers, the hard workers, and loyalists, all of whom are there to help your business succeed. You can’t always predict what type of person someone will be in the context of your business, but you do have ultimate control over who’s a part of your business and who isn’t. Spend extra time up front to make sure the right people are a part of your enterprise, and weed out the toxic members before it’s too late.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!