Oil and water

Nov 05 2007 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

I've been spending an enjoyable couple of weeks in France, with one more week to go, looking after our friends' house whilst they take a well earned break in Australia. During my time here, I've made a great pretence of playing at working remotely, whilst trying to convince my wife and our friends back in the UK that I can, in fact, run my practice from anywhere. Whether this turns out to be anything more than a pipedream is purely coincidental, because it got me thinking about a dilemma which many senior executives struggle with day in and day out; namely backing their instincts and their judgement to do what they know is right,

That got me wondering just why it was that the further up the slippery pole these people got, the more irrational they seem to get in their decision-making and the more frustrated they seemed to get with their apparent inability to back their own judgement.

Now, what we're talking about here are successful, intelligent and well-educated Men and Women questioning what they know to be true, and what's even more disconcerting, when I analyse them, is that they are all very different, come from totally different backgrounds and on the face of it, have nothing at all in common with each other.

And yet, they are all smitten by the same uncertainty. You could well argue that that this uncertainty is driven by fear. Fear of failure or fear of success; it makes no difference really, as they are both sides of the same coin.

I assumed for many years that it could only be fear which fuelled this irrational behaviour - but now I'm not so sure. After all, what would these successful, well-educated and intelligent people have to fear from anybody? If they're not already captains of industry, then they are all pretty close to it.

No, the real issue here is the fundamental difference between being successful as a business manager and successful as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs tend to be single-minded loners by nature, whereas business managers tend to be (or aspire to be) more collaborative, cautious and consensual - they're the oil and water of professional personalities if you like.

But what happens during a particular phase of an executive's development is that they need to experiment with the entrepreneurial side of their personality, in order to demonstrate to their organisations that they have the wherewithal to make it to next level of executive management.

And this is where the problems begin to occur, because while behaving like an entrepreneur might be exciting it's also fraught with risk - and risk is not something senior executives do particularly well.

So as a result, many find themselves caught in a continuous loop, cycling and recycling backwards and forwards between the two, unsure of which course of action is best.

And the outcome? Well, they eventually end up doing up neither - and that's what drives even more paranoia, uncertainty and irrational behaviour. It's just like oil and water; the two do not mix well, and so it is with the personalities of the entrepreneur and the professional manager.

So, can it work the other way around? Well yes, there are some examples of semi-successful transitions from entrepreneur to manager, ( Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Richard Branson spring to mind), but I can think of many more examples of entrepreneurs who just can't make the successful transformation into business managers, with the smarter ones realising the error of their ways and hiring professional managers to look after the businesses they started.

So how does this relate to me? Well, as a born entrepreneur, I'm a late starter. I only gave up on the corporate World almost 20 years ago to pursue a lifestyle with an occasional income, which allows me to write this column from the balcony of a beach hut in Bequia or the terrace of farmhouse in the South of France. I care not which, as it's all the same to me. Cheers !


About The Author

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.