Theory E²: Working with Entrepreneurs in Closely-Held Enterprises — I. Close to the Heart

Theory E²: Working with Entrepreneurs in Closely-Held Enterprises — I. Close to the Heart

6. The Fear Factor

Entrepreneurs who hold their enterprise close to their heart may sacrifice something very large in exchange for this control. In many cases, they sacrifice the capacity to generate outside funds. They may seek out venture capital (VCs), if they are a for-profit organization, but often are not very attractive to the VCs because they are so tightly controlled and dependent on the ongoing inspiration and leadership of one or two people. (Venture capitalists typically want to be able to exert their own influence, which means the entrepreneur has to give up partial ownership of that which is close to her heart.) If the closely held enterprise is nonprofit, then typically this enterprise limits the scope of its fund-raising efforts in its focus on a specific niche (e.g. shelter for battered women).

More importantly, there is a powerful psychological force in operation. For a variety of reasons, most entrepreneurs feel like they are living on the edge of financial insolvency. Just as doting parents are often irrationally concerned about the safety of their children (John Irving captured this fear beautifully in The World According to Garp—the fear of the “under-toad”), the entrepreneur is constantly in angst regarding the welfare of her cherished enterprise. There is never enough financial security. There is always the search for another dollar or a new funding source: “We never seem to have quite enough money . . . or maybe we just keep raising the bar in terms of our financial expectations. . . . how much is enough money? . . . one dollar more than we now have!”

There is also the complex interplay between three fundamental emotions: anticipation of regret, fear of loss and hope for gain. The behavioral economists provide compelling evidence that we are motivated first and foremost to avoid regret. We don’t what to say later that we had the opportunity, but failed to take advantage. To quote Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront): “I could have been a contender!” Or we seek to avoid regret associated with a decision that we did make that turned out to be the wrong decision, made at the wrong time.

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William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: www.psychology.edu) offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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