You Project Your Character Onto Your Business – Here’s My Mistake That You Need to Avoid

Here at ActiveGrowth, I believe there are 3 pillars to building and running a successful business

  1. The value in the products you create.
  2. The tech and tools you use.
  3. Your personal character and skills.

In other words, your personal character, work ethic, productivity, skills etc. are one third of the equation.

In today's video, I confess one of the mistakes I've made in this very aspect, even though I'm the guy who should have been able to predict and avoid such a mistake more than anyone...

More...

Your Character = Your Company's Culture

Let's start with the good (and also more obvious) bit: as a founder, CEO and manager, your character defines the culture in your team. This is especially true for early stage startups and small teams.

Think of it like this: it's very rare that employees will exceed the level of expectations set by their surroundings and their leaders. If you put someone on a team where everyone slacks off, everyone avoids work, no one has a clear plan or clear directions and even the CEO is unreliable, they'll not do their best. In fact, most people will slide towards laziness and slacking off themselves, if they're in such an environment for long enough.

One of the most important traits for successful entrepreneurs is strong work ethic.

As soon as you have people working for or with you, your own work ethic will subconsciously set the bar for everyone else. If people on your team don't see you working hard, it signals to them that hard work isn't the done thing in your team.

And so it goes with countless other character traits. In short, you need to lead from the front.

The Flip Side...

What's a bit trickier to notice is that your quirks and bad habits will equally bleed over into your team and company culture. This is something I wasn't aware enough of, for a long time.

The clearest example of this is in how we grew the Thrive Themes team and how we managed and assigned projects. For a long time, our team was growing rapidly and we got overwhelmed trying to onboard new team members, assign different projects to everyone and keep up with development of existing projects.

As a result, our productivity suffered. We found ourselves in a position where we had too many ongoing projects, where our team's focus was scattered between now projects, ongoing projects, internal training and much more.

And here's the thing: this is exactly the kind of thing I do, in my personal life and in my own work.

I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew. And I have a terrible flaw (albeit one that is common among entrepreneurs): I can't say "no" to new projects. I'm always interested in doing more things than I can possibly do at the same time.

This kind of chaos in the way I think and approach my projects carried over to the entire Thrive Themes company and caused a lot of the chaos we've had to work through.

It's Not Exactly a Mirror

The Thrive Themes team did admirably in working through this chaos and keeping up consistent delivery and consistent improvements to our products. So, despite me projecting my personal flaws onto the company like this, the effects were somewhat dulled by the efforts of everyone on the team.

This is good news. As a CEO/founder/leader, you project your character (good and bad) onto your team, but it's not a 1:1 mirror.

The lesson here is to be aware of how your character and flaws affect people who work for and with you. The problem is that we are blind to our own flaws. But fear not, I've got two solutions for you.

Here's how to spot your own flaws:

1) Do Periodic "Quadrant Feedback" Sessions

Quadrant feedback works like this: you have a meeting with each of your team members and you both follow the structure of feedback shown below.

Both participants in the meeting give feedback on these 4 points:

  1. What I did well and what goals I accomplished since our last meeting.
  2. What I want to improve, what I didn't do so well and what new goals and skills I set for myself until the next meeting.
  3. What you did well, things that helped me do better work, things you should keep doing or do more of.
  4. What you didn't do so well, things that hindered me in my work, new goals to set or skills to focus on until our next meeting.

One reason this kind of feedback works so well is because it "forces" both positive and negative feedback. Us humans are social creatures and we generally would rather avoid the awkwardness and potential conflict that comes from giving negative feedback (no matter how constructive it is).

If you do an unstructured meeting and simply ask for critical feedback, you're likely to get "I can't think of anything, everything was fine" as a reply. But if you structure the meeting using this quadrant method and ask your team members to prepare notes on each of the quadrants in advance, you'll have a much more productive session.

2) Look at What's Going Wrong in Your Business (and then Blame Yourself)

Because we project our character onto our companies, one way to learn about our own flaws is to look at what's going wrong.

Once again, our human nature tends to get in our way here: we like to see things that aren't going well in our business and blame others. In fact, it often seems perfectly reasonable to blame others. People on your team aren't doing a good job! They're lazy! They don't take ownership of their tasks! How is that your fault?

Well, the truth is, it probably is your fault, at least to some degree. Something you do sets the wrong example. Something about how you run the company doesn't facilitate good, efficient, high quality work.

Fix the problem in the company, but also fix the problem within yourself.

Conclusion

With all of the above, you can now see why I rate personal development, skill building and character so highly. Excellent companies are run by excellent people and that's why for me, skill building and self improvement are one of the cornerstones of entrepreneurship.

That's why we spend so much time talking about building your personal skills, overcoming procrastination and developing the right mindset, both on the blog and in our podcast.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic! And I also appreciate any feedback you have on this somewhat unconventional piece of content. Did you enjoy it? Can you relate to it? Does it help you become a better entrepreneur?

Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Shane's Signature

About the Author Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Raul says:

    Good video. Since long ago I do not see a video with so big percentage of likes. Today I was looking at some other videos. Concretelly this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVsXO9brK7M and when doing the excercise I noticed that I had some issues to differenciate what is my personal mission to what is my company’s mission. But at the time the company grows it is more obvious that our skill sets are different. I can be good making an ecommerce strategy for a company, but the company maybe good creating a story for their own customers. And noticing that the “creature” is having everyday more its own identity feels a bit liberating.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      That’s an interesting point. The business can take on an identity of its own and that’s probably an important thing, especially if you want the business to be able to scale and run without your constant involvement.

  • Gwen Gayhart says:

    Shane, thanks for your refreshing vulnerability in sharing revelations about how you’re getting in your own way. I especially appreciate that you offer a possible solution, but also admit you haven’t got all the answers and ask for our feedback. Like you, I tend to get excited about ideas and solutions, and lean towards thinking anything’s possible, but then end up buried and overwhelmed or just spread too thin. In your case, I wonder with that terrific team you’ve built, if you mightn’t be able to designate a “champion” for some of the projects you think are worth undertaking (after inquiring with the appropriate team member/s if they’d have time for and be able to get behind the project’s mission, of course)? It can be hard as an entrepreneur to REALLY let go of some of the exciting undertakings we’re presented with, but imagine how much more you could “undertake” as a team if you didn’t need to own or run point on every one!

    One more possible suggestion might be to brainstorm with your team (or a trusted friend or advisor) all the good that could come out of a project and weigh that against 1) how else your time could be spent; and 2) does it align with your mission?

    Just a couple of suggestions. Now, if you have any suggestions for someone who has trouble seeing the trees for the forest, I’m all ears!!

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you very much for your suggestions, Gwen! I like the idea of designating a “champion”. It’s a nice title as well. Feels like an honor, not just added responsibility.

      I have a suggestion for your struggle with spreading yourself too thinly: create a daily reminder for yourself.

      Pick a thing that you get excited about. A project you want to pursue. And write down 3 things about it:

      1) What is this project?
      2) Why is it important/exciting to you?
      3) What is a milestone you want to and can reach in the mid term?

      The third point is very important: this project excites you for a reason. You care about it. But if it just remains an idea, it does no good in the world. You have to ship something, before this project can actually do any good. So, think about what you must ship, for this project to have mattered.

      Then, add a daily reminder to your morning ritual. Look at the 3 points you wrote down about your project. Ask yourself: do I still care about this? If yes, work towards your milestone. If no, abandon the project entirely and never return to it.

      If you aren’t willing to abandon it, remind yourself why you care and work towards shipping it.

  • Shane you are a good man. First off, it takes balls of steel to confront your demons, more so to publish it. As to what you should do… well if I may be blunt, you are a sharp guy, you know the problems, I think you know what must be done. Sort of like time management in a banto box. I look forward to seeing how this pans out. BTW I have, until recently, been suffering with the same dilema. Irritates me.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for your encouraging words.

      I think I maybe know what to do, yes. We’ve got a long list of problems and suggested solutions that we are currently trying to implement. The goal being that Thrive Themes has a clear and strong company culture, which is separate and independent from me. We’ll see how it pans out. :)

  • Further to my first comment, That was a refreshingly honest post. And for what it’s worth as an outsider/customer I haven’t noticed any blimps on the Thrive radar. Pretty stoked all round actually.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you! That’s very encouraging to hear.

  • Shane, that’s a great insight. Our mantra in business is “as within, so without”. i.e. Your business is a reflection of who you are, and if you want to grow, you need to grow (personally) first.

    I know I personally suffer from the too many projects syndrome – and have had to reign in the chasing of bright shiny objects :) And I’ve seen what’s happened with clients when they made the same chasing mistakes.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Yes, that’s very nicely put. :)

      Thanks for your comment, Rashid!

  • Very good topic, I certainly relate to myself, so I will be watching for ideas and more from you on this.
    I heard years ago that an organization is normally a reflection of the personality of the leader. I have seen this being the case, then it can shift to the personality of the board, or its Chairman… whoever has the most influence. This is something that naturally occurs when a company moves to having a board of directors, as the founding individual steps away from the primary leadership role.
    The question is, how to get the organization to develop, as Raul indicated, into a creature of its own identity… one even greater than the individual?

    What if you functioned a little bit more like a corporation would, with the consensus of more people needed for many decisions, or at least more constructive input.
    Such as, having a group participate in deciding about new projects may be a way to have your tendency to start too many brought to light and looked at from different perspectives.
    This would be in addition to your current daily feedback, which is probably about the projects already in process, not helping decide what, if, and when.

    This relates to another aspect of leadership, which is how the leader is perceived by everyone else in the organization. If the leader is looked at as a “guru” of sorts, then two things can happen. One, the people adore the leader too much to fully value themselves and what they can contribute, the the leader always knows best. And second, people will feel reluctant to speak their mind if it at all differs from the leader. This is for the leader to guide and manage, to not let get out of hand, as they have full command at the onset.

    I think it is a priority for the originator of the organization to pass on the vision they have for it to the other people. This helps align everyone’s perspective with that of the leader, so that their individual ideas serve the vision well. It seems this is how more different individuals can be involved in key decisions, offering various perspectives without as much need for the leader to always be deciding from just their perspective alone. Basically it becomes a “mastermind” group where the value rises above the number of member geometrically.
    With this, perhaps the functionality of the organization can grow beyond the capabilities of one individual, while retaining the original vision. This can also serve to help release the leader from being over strapped to the organization… you may want some time off without worry!

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, John!

      What I’m currently working on is building a culture in my company that is separate from me. You could say that the company’s culture is a deliberately crafted “identity” of the company that is not dependent on the founder/leader/board. The goal is for the business to have an identity that everyone contributes to equally.

  • Zach Waldman says:

    Great stuff. However, I would go even further and say everything around you is a reflection of your character. If your space is messy, your out of shape, and depressed, good luck trying to start a business. People come to me for business advice all the time. Being an entrepreneur is tough. I think it’s almost impossible if you’re a physical, emotional, and financial wreck to start a business. At the very least, it’s not fun.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      I 100% agree with that, Zach. I’ve gone through periods of difficulties many times, over the years and for me, the first step is always to get my own stuff in order first. I know that I can’t make a positive change in the organization when, as you say, my space is a mess, my sleep schedule is out of whack and so on.

  • Larry Rampulla says:

    Kudos on a fine post of an important topic for anyone no matter their business. While others are selling books and wrangling up subscriptions for their new course (like the old one no longer works) you pulled up your big boy pants to say welcome to Shane’s Fuck Ups. I like the Quadrant Feedback approach introduced by you, but more so for the maturation process one needs to have developed to appreciate it. I’ve learned things never turn out as bad as they were fretted over. That helped me separate valuable feedback from personal critique. Holding onto ego as it were a shield prevents one from learning the value in other points of view. “It’s not personal Shane, it’s strictly business.” Yeah, you saw the movie. Valuing the feedback of others will help them to become leaders which is what your team is in need of.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for your comment, Larry!

      Indeed, this is a very important aspect. Mutual feedback and critique is so important, but if people are too ego focused, it can become a head-butting match with no positive outcomes for anyone.

  • Kevin says:

    Hi Shane, I ran a software company for 25 years (25 programmers). I hired a fresh crop of new graduates out of computer science every year for many years. We had a million lines of code on 20 platforms at the peak. I ended up building (1) a client-server task management system with defined process/progress steps, etc. and (2) a web-based checklist system for repeatable procedures. These two systems allowed me to have new hires do their first software checkin on the first day they were hired (we also had a completely automated software build system so they didn’t have to learn how to do that right away).

    Now you have the background. It was a great system because it allowed me to spend a huge percentage of my time writing task descriptions as the architect. I wrote something like 4000 task requests (3 days to 3 weeks each) over the years. This allowed the guys to maintain high productivity and onboarding costs were very low (first checkin on the first day, etc). I could choose and schedule tasks and steer the team quite easily with the system. If I took on “too many” projects, it would show up in the TRs that were allocated to the guys.

    It’s interesting that you talk about how the psychology and tendencies of the boss travel down into the organization. True. Same with nepotism, etc. Have you read the Peter Principle, where people rise to their level of incompetence in an organization and then stay there since they can’t be promoted higher? Great book.

    Cheers, Kevin

  • terry says:

    you get a manager mate. You pay him and you just demand from him :D

  • Jim Pruitt says:

    Classical Problem with visionaries. You need to find a good integrator to run things. Check out https://www.rocketfuelnow.com/. take the tests and read the book. Helped me a lot.

  • Valentin says:

    Thanks for sharing wonderful post information helped me a lot.

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