The number of people 50 and older who are starting or buying their own businesses is growing steadily. There are a lot of reasons why.
For some people, age discrimination has either made it difficult (or impossible) to find meaningful employment at a 9-to-5 job at acceptable pay levels. For others, it’s the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. Or it’s a chance to create an entirely new income-producing opportunity if traditional retirement is too boring.
Some new businesses succeed. Most limp along. Half will fail within five years.
New business owners tend to hang onto their comfort zones, biases and blind spots. They might be driven; they may be happiest when they’re at their most workaholic. But long hours, a great idea and ambition only go so far. If these people don’t learn adaptability, they’re headed for trouble.
An article in the Gallup Business Journal on the impact of business owners’ psychology on their businesses goes straight to heart of the matter. Gallup researchers found that the most successful entrepreneurs had the following talents:
3. Creative thinking
7. Knowledge seeking
8. Promotion skills
9. Relationship building
10. Risk management
Note that two of the 10 talents, delegating and relationship building, conflict with the “I’m in charge, this is my baby, this is the way I want it so do as I say” style of many entrepreneurs.
Also note that knowledge seeking and creativity suggest flexibility. People who are constantly looking for new ideas and applying them to their own businesses demonstrate an essential quality, in business and in life: adaptability. They’re keeping their businesses agile through constant refinement, not by sticking to a strict behavioral script.
That requires a new approach for these business owners who run their organizations like a fiefdom. One of my clients, who sold her successful consumer goods manufacturing company and joined a much larger competitor as CEO, found that the rigid, autocratic style that once worked well was creating havoc in the company she had just joined.
In her own small organization, nothing used to get done without her knowledge and permission; she and her decision making were central to every move. It was a spoke and wheel model, and she was the hub. The business is too big and complex at her new company for that model to work.
She had to learn to be less controlling, more trusting, and build a cadre of people dedicated to both the organization’s success and their individual achievement. Instead of dictating, she’s created an environment of collaboration.
She deserves kudos for making the transformation, and so quickly. It’s incredibly hard to change long-entrenched habits and mindsets. It’s also worth noting that by adapting, the company she runs is now thriving. Sales have doubled, and she is maintaining margins, controlling expenses, and increasing profitability.
And yes, she’s still adapting.
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