The classic mistakes made by entrepreneurs when managing people

Kate Russell offers advice to ensure happy entrepreneurs and happy teams.

Managing people is tough at the best of times. Even if you know about Maslow and Herzberg and what you are supposed to do, managing people is, in Warren Bennis’ words, like ‘herding cats’.

Why do things go wrong? In part it is because many managers don’t grasp how differently we can perceive and interact with the world. Self-knowledge is as important as an understanding of your team. They say opposites attract in personal relationships (though whether that’s a recipe for long term success is a whole other argument). If you’re going to build a successful team you need to give some thought not just to skills but to personality traits too.

There are no right or wrong personalities; it’s about getting the right fit for the team and role. In Wendy Evan’s excellent book ‘Choose and grow your business is 90 days’ she lists the different personality traits of successful people and indicates the areas of business in which they are successful. It’s interesting that successful entrepreneurs don’t thrive in a traditional employed environment (seen as seriously maverick and dangerous) and highly successful employed directors often fail to make the grade in running their own business.

Entrepreneurs are fun but not the easiest people in the world for whom to work. They are often highly energetic (‘Why can’t you keep up with me?’); impatient, optimistic, determined and focussed (‘Oh, stop moaning. We’ll sort it out!’); often charismatic, certainly creative (six impossible new ideas before breakfast). And so it goes on. I fit all the characteristics – good and bad – of the entrepreneur and have been described variously as a ‘small ball of fire’ and been the inspiration for a new verb ‘to be Russelled’.

Unless they can run on robots or an entirely outsourced team, entrepreneurs have to learn how to train up their teams. Here are my tips for happy entrepreneurs and happy teams.

  • Recruit the right people. It always starts with that. I look for people who are detail conscious and quality driven, but are patient and sweet tempered.
  • If you understand them you can play to you team’s strengths. Mine like to operate in a highly structured way. Creative chaos is not for them – so I plan for order and method.
  • Good planning. They like that. They like to know what, where and when. We have a short, medium and long term game plan.
  • I recognise their achievements in public and provide corrective feedback in private.
  • They have projects of their own to manage so they get a break from the full force of me in full flight (it can be a bit overwhelming at times!)

Good processes will massively reduce recruitment mistakes, but where they occur, identify problems quickly and provide detailed correct coaching. If the individual still isn’t going in the right direction in three to six months weed them out. Good people like working with good people. The wrong people will set you back months and years.

Further reading on managing staff

Kate Russell

Kate Russell

Kate Russell is founder of Russell HR Consulting.

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Managing Staff

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