Starting, managing and growing a small business requires quite a bit of listening. Small business owners need to listen to customers, spot trends, solicit input from employees, and watch for regulatory and financial warning signs along the way to small business growth. Entrepreneurs without the ability to recognize these inputs and synthesize them into their strategic and day-do-day decision making often ultimately fail.
At the same time, there are times when it is important for small business owners to disregard inputs they hear from various sources. After all, there is a difference between detractors and non-believers versus those that are providing constructive feedback on how to make your small business more successful.
Here are three important scenarios where listening can be less helpful and more of a liability:
Inputs from those that don’t share the same vision as you. Most small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs have a clear vision, which may or may not be shared by others that you interact with. This dynamic is even more pronounced when you have an especially grand, disruptive, game-changing vision that others have failed to recognize in the past. In these cases, listening too much to industry incumbents and other naysayers is counterproductive. In many cases, even your own employees will need to be convinced of the value of your vision so that they can fully buy-into and support your vision. You certainly want to keep an eye out for deficiencies in your vision and identify opportunities for improvement, but there is a fine line between soliciting constructive input and tuning out those that don’t fully support your overall direction.
Employees whose interests are not aligned with your small business. No matter what you do, none of your employees will be as interested in the success of your business as you. They have their own lives to lead and interests to satisfy, so expecting 100% alignment is not realistic. Even entrepreneurs who give away equity to employees, pay well, and inspire people to follow them experience this challenge. Unless you plan to put your employees on equal footing with you and evenly distribute the risks and rewards of small business ownership, there will always been some dissonance between the two sets of interests. Put another way, every $1 of costs and revenue will affect you a lot more than it will impact your employees, so it is important to filter employee input accordingly at times.
Society’s definition of what is possible or reasonable. This is probably the most prevalent of the three challenges listed here. If society as a whole valued entrepreneurship and if most people recognized and were willing to take on the hard work and risk that goes into starting and owning a small business, the world would see a lot more successful entrepreneurs than we do now. With that backdrop in mind, it is understandable why most people will be skeptical of your new business venture or doubt your ability to get it done. Society in general may be overtly disbelieving in your ability to launch and grow a successful enterprise, but then again, most successful entrepreneurs wouldn’t be where they are today if they had seriously absorbed all of the negative feedback they received along the way.
These are just three potentially counterproductive sources that shouldn’t always be seriously considered. There are others as well. For example, many small business consultants and even the Small Business Administration at times administer very myopic or limited advice that can provide a false sense of direction or security. One of the toughest parts of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when to listen, when to tune out, and when to solicit a second opinion.
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