Do you know yourself as a business owner? - Advise Accountants
27 July 2015
Do you know yourself as a business owner?

According to Greek mythology, the temple of Apollo at Delphi was inscribed with the words “Gnothi Seauton.” This translates to “Know thyself” – and it’s a useful maxim for business owners today.

Who are you really?

Without getting too philosophical, each of us behaves like several different people. Our personalities are partly defined by the people around us. For example, I behave differently depending on whether I’m:

  • having dinner with my wife
  • discussing a business proposal with a work colleague
  • having a sales meeting with a client
  • playing with my children.

I’m the same person in all cases, but the expression of my personality is different. No doubt you have similar experiences.

The expression of your personality on its own won’t determine whether your business will succeed or fail. But knowing your personality will help you adjust your approach and the structure of your business. Andnot knowing it can lead you to make potentially damaging mistakes – over and over again.

So if you’re going to succeed in business, you need to know yourself.

The value of self-awareness

My psychology degree taught me that self-awareness starts in childhood and grows through to adolescence. By the time someone reaches their late teens, they are said to be fully self-aware.

But that’s only part of the story. In practice our awareness of ourselves increases with age. It grows as we test ourselves in different situations, and go through life’s highs and lows. We don’t really know ourselves until we’re well past our teens. I’m still learning at the age of 44!

Some people drift through their twenties and thirties. Then they suddenly find purpose and insight in their forties. I know many entrepreneurs who started businesses at this stage of life. They finally knew themselves – and how to use that knowledge.

Here’s Wikipedia’s entry on self-awareness.

“Someone with a strong self-efficacy, for example, views challenges as mere tasks that must be overcome, and are not easily discouraged by setbacks. They are aware of their flaws and abilities and choose to utilize these qualities to the best of their ability. Someone with a weak sense of self-efficacy evades challenges and quickly feels discouraged by setbacks. They may not be aware of these negative reactions, and therefore do not always change their attitude.”

As a business owner, which one of those two groups would you prefer to be in? Exactly. But how do you get to know yourself better?

Getting to know yourself

There’s no need to sit in a darkened room with incense and candles, chanting “Om” and trying to get in touch with your inner you. Instead, keep it practical and start with the basics.

Are you a lark or a night owl? Do you naturally function better in the evening or in the morning? It takes a crowbar to pry me out of bed in the mornings, so I know I’m no lark. Try to change your work patterns to suit your nature. Save intellectual work for when you’re at your mental peak.

What are your key skills? Be honest with yourself. Are you a strong mathematician? Can you manipulate language? Are you good at persuasion? Do you run your life on a logical basis? Do you make business decisions based on gut feelings? None of these are right or wrong. But this self-knowledge will help you better understand your innate skills.

For example, I have friends who are programmers and they do fit a certain mold: mathematical, logical, detail-obsessed and not particularly interested in complex social environments. They’ve found their niche. What’s yours?

You could take a personality test, but be wary of the results. HR departments have been using them for decades, but they are a broad-brush solution. They’re great if you need to wade through hundreds of job applications, not so good at the fine detail. Still, they can point you in the right direction. There are plenty of tests online – just don’t take the results as being the final word.

Fill in the gaps in your business

This is the important part. Once you know yourself properly, you’ll know your strengths – and your weaknesses. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of the latter. Everybody has weaknesses, and often they provide the balance to your strengths.

Start by exploiting your strengths. Cut back on work that doesn’t directly make use of your special talents and skills. If you’re a natural salesperson, get someone else to do the admin. If you’re a great programmer, don’t get stuck handling customer complaints. I’m a writer first and foremost, and I’d be no good at sales.

Now look at your weaknesses. Accept them and understand them. If you don’t, you run the risk of living in denial. That will lead you to think you’re good at something when you’re not.

This is probably the hardest part of knowing yourself. I’m not sure I’ve reached this stage myself. Being able to say “I am not very good at customer management, so I will hire someone for that role” can be tough. But once you do it, your business will grow a lot faster.

Nobody – not even a great business owner like you – is good at everything. Fortunately, once you know yourself, you don’t have to be.