Added On: Thursday, November 27, 2008

How To Channel Your Entrepreneurial Ego


Steven Berglas, Ph.D. 11.21.08, 6:15 PM ET

"Let me show you the future."

Every entrepreneur believes that one day he or she will be able to make this statement. The goal of my new column, Head Coach, is to explain why this is so; what drives entrepreneurs to dream that particular dream; what psychological hurdles stand in the way; and, with any luck, how to clear them.

My fascination with entrepreneurs and what makes them tick began 20 years ago after reading a quote from Abraham Zalenik, a psychoanalyst and a former professor at Harvard Business School: "To understand the entrepreneur, you first have to understand the psychology of the juvenile delinquent."

Not long after, I began hosting forums for business groups like the Young President's Organization. Since then, I have consulted for and coached scores of entrepreneurs whose most compelling dream was to create a better future. My columns will draw upon these experiences, as well as the work spent building the course, "Entpreneurial Psychology," that I taught at UCLA's Anderson School of Management.

In Pictures: Secrets Of The Self-Made 2008

Two decades later, I can tell you that Zalenik had it right--to a point. Entrepreneurs do often behave like "acting-out" youths. But whereas juvenile delinquents tend to have little capacity for empathy and altruism, entrepreneurs also tend to be hard-wired for philanthropy.

No two entrepreneurs are exactly the same, of course. Some come from loving families; others have survived abusive ones. Some are married, others staunchly single. Some are brilliant students, others incorrigible cut-ups. At bottom, however, all have a healthy tolerance for risk, an addiction to change and challenge, and strong views on what matters most in life. Hint: It's not piles of money.

While there's no question that entrepreneurs love their toys, in contrast to finance types, I can assure you that the self-made are relatively unconcerned about amassing vast fortunes. Their bigger incentive: garnering the stature and respect from cognoscenti in their respective fields. These super-achievers get up each morning for two primary reasons: (1) to improve life as we know it, and (2) to do it in a manner that reflects their belief that they are "the best and the brightest."

There's a third need that kicks in, too, especially for those who've hit it big. Many successful entrepreneurs become coaches and advisers for the next generation of go-getters in their fields. This, too, follows from the same need to change the world. Sure, a decent return on investment is nice. But what they really want is a vision realized--even if it means fighting through scorn, rejection and failure.

I'll explore what it takes to overcome those obstacles and, hopefully, provide you with a clearer view of your own chances of entrepreneurial success. There may no such thing as an "entrepreneurial personality," but I'm convinced that a handful of core attributes can explain the obvious differences between entrepreneurs and the rest.

And we should all be thankful for those differences--our economy depends on them.

Dr. Steven Berglas spent 25 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry. Today, he coaches entrepreneurs, executives and other high achievers. He can be reached at: drb@berglas.com.

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