Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist


Why is personal development critical for entrepreneurs?

Your business reflects your ideas, values, skills, knowledge, wellbeing, mental state, personal perspectives, worldview and personality.


Personal development is critical for your success as an entrepreneur because you are the face of your business and if you are not comfortable in your business skin, it will show and have a negative effect on your business.

“As a founder or entrepreneur, especially in the early stages of your business, you are the business. At least at the beginning of the lifecycle of a business it is almost impossible to separate it from the character and mind of the entrepreneur who brought it to life.

“Everything that goes into who you are as an individual translates directly into how the business manifests itself,” Heather Lowe, head of SME Development at FNB, says.

“This is the beauty of entrepreneurship: just as we are all unique, this uniqueness manifests in new, innovative businesses that are tested on the market. Without the unique perspectives of founders, we would have no innovation, no differentiation, no progress.”

However, the fact that the personal is so inextricably linked to the business also poses significant risk, she warns. “Humans are not generally perfectly well-rounded. We all have our particular strengths and weaknesses. Again, this is to our benefit.

“It means that we are not all the same and offer valuable, unique perspectives. But businesses, if they are to grow and mature, must be well rounded and this requires an awareness on the founder’s part that your personal growth must match the growth of the business.”

ALSO READ: How to navigate the pressures of owning a small business in SA

Business skills required like a clock

The range of skills required as your businesses grows can be illustrated through the analogy of a clock face, she says.

“The first phase of a new start-up – the first quadrant of the clock – is largely conceptual. The creative entrepreneur thrives when coming up with a new idea, testing it against market research and anticipating challenges and requirements.

“As the hour hand turns around the face, the need for different skills emerges. You must communicate your idea and get buy-in. Skills in sales, marketing, and interpersonal relationships are rewarded here.”

As the clock enters the third quadrant, it becomes important to rally support and build a team, Lowe says. “Management skills, leadership skills and the ability to motivate people becomes important. Finally, the focus becomes delivery and an efficient, detail-oriented, systems-led approach allows the company to outperform its competition. This cycle is, loosely, repeated as the company takes stock of its position and looks to innovate and grow.”

Lowe says these four quadrants require fundamentally different skills and the likelihood of a single person possessing all the skills necessary in each one of them is small. But this is what is required to build a business. How, then, should an entrepreneur approach the task?

“Entrepreneurs must acknowledge the central lesson that personal growth is crucial to the growth of your business. You must also be aware that you will have weaknesses that you may not be aware of. We all do! These may be gaps in your factual knowledge, in your interpersonal skills, or blind spots in your areas of interest.”

Many entrepreneurs – and this is only natural – try to capitalise on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses, she says, but this will only get you so far. The secret to addressing these gaps and overcoming these weaknesses, is twofold: understand yourself and learn from others.

“Firstly, you must endeavour to be honest with yourself about your capacities and the need for growth. As the inscription on the ancient Greek Temple of Apollo reads: ‘Know thyself’. Know the extent of your abilities and limitations and endeavour to make this process of self-knowledge a lifelong activity.“

ALSO READ: SA small business owners should be proud of their resilience

Use personality test to see what kind of entrepreneur you are

Lowe says there are a myriad personality tests available that will guide you in this process and give you clear indicators about where you should focus your attention. They will help you understand where you draw your energy from, how you process information and the types of people that you might work with productively. Pay special attention to the weaknesses that these tests uncover, is her advice.

“Secondly, fill these gaps with the help of other people. The only way you can become more well-rounded is by learning from people who are unlike you. Mentors, coaches, or therapists are crucial resources in understanding yourself and learning to grow. So are other entrepreneurs: read widely about the experiences of successful (and unsuccessful!) leaders. No entrepreneur is born fully formed – they are made through a process of constant learning.”

Lowe says another key resource will be the people you choose to work with. “Do not hire anyone who is too similar to you. Hire people who have different skillsets, attitudes and perspectives and then actively learn from them. Notice how they approach a situation that you would have approached differently and try to emulate beneficial traits that you might lack.”

This is going to be a journey, Lowe warns, but a rewarding one. “You cannot enrol in a course that teaches you everything you will need to know about yourself. It is a constant process of self-discovery.”

 Investing in this process requires an opportunity-based, not a fear-based mindset, which is hard for some entrepreneurs to overcome, she says.

“But the benefits are highly worth the discipline required to make progress. After all, you will not just be a better entrepreneur: you will be a more complete, well-rounded person.”

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