Written by: Dr. Douglas Kong, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
It is a known fact that more than half of entrepreneurs have experienced burnout with many more at risk. Various studies indicate this risk to be between 42 to 63%. This is not surprising considering that entrepreneurs are passionate about their calling.
It was this passion that drove entrepreneurs to experience financial stress, long hours of work, and poor work-life balance in pursuit of their passion before it ended with burnout. Because of his passion, the entrepreneur is willing to devote his effort and time to something that energizes him. Burnout therefore is a risk waiting to be realized.
Does passion fuel burnout? A 2018 study reported in Harvard Business Review examined this issue in depth. This study looked at 326 entrepreneurs. They distinguished between “harmonious passion” where entrepreneurs were motivated by the work because it brought them satisfaction and defined who they were, and “obsessive passion” where the job was important because of the status, money, and other rewards it would bring.
Other measures studied included a fixed vs. growth mindset, and job fit. A significant finding was that those who scored high on harmonious passion reported high levels of job fit. While those who scored high on obsessive passion were more likely to report burnout. Further, those who were obsessively passionate were associated with a fixed mindset besides being prone to burnout.
In short, if an entrepreneur was not able to have the freedom to define his own work and had a fixed mindset, his entrepreneurial motivation appeared to be more for the sake of rewards other than his own personal satisfaction, and most likely be prone to burnout.
The combination of a fixed mindset and obsessional passion is particularly lethal. This suggests that the entrepreneur at risk for burnout is focussed on results, especially financial results besides personal as well as social acceptance.
The job fit may be an indication that the chosen business he was pursuing did not quite “fit” with his passion so his creative endeavors did not quite meet with acceptance by the intended audience.
To me, this seems to be a matter of business strategy and/or business model. A lack of understanding of the marketplace, and marketing strategy may be underlying the perceived lack of “Job-fit”.
For many years, I have helped many entrepreneurs recover from burnout. My personal observation was that the precipitating course was often financial, more accurately cashflow due to a lack of sales. I have addressed this aspect in an earlier paper on marketing strategy. ²
But sometimes the lack of or absence of sales may be due to a lack of demand for their products or services, or the entrepreneur may have failed to align their passion and product/service to what the marketplace is looking for.
This does happen from time to time, and I have witnessed entrepreneurs going through such struggles. Some had gone back to being an employee again, and a few others decided to start all over again after they sought advice and shuttered their earlier attempt at entrepreneurship. They succeeded the second time!
Assuming that the product/service is viable in the marketplace. The demand is there and will be reflected in sales and a positive cash flow. If sales are inadequate then the issue to address is the alignment of the product/service to the needs and wants of the customer, This alignment ensures that the branding and the business model are in sync with what the marketplace needs and wants. When there is this alignment, the cash flow is positive and the business is positioned for further growth.
At this point, a critical question for the entrepreneur to ask is: can your business function like clockwork without you?
If the business requires your manhours of work as a contribution and you are working hard in your own business, then you are a self-employed person in your own business. You are not running a business.
If you are running a business as a business owner should, you would have an organization that runs every aspect of your business while you as the owner are only needed to guide, advise, and steer the business in the right direction. In short, you take care of the strategic direction of the business and realize the strategic intent of your entrepreneurial dream.
The usual way to characterize this is to say that you should be working ON the business (as the owner) and not IN your business (as an employee, albeit self-employed).
Working ON your business
When the entrepreneur functions as the business owner, that's when he experiences harmonious passion, because he enjoys it as the work is being done by his employees who perform all the tasks and keep his business humming with activity. Is that not what being a successful entrepreneur is all about?
A constant advice given to entrepreneurs at risk for burnout is to delegate tasks to their subordinates. That is not a complete advice. To add value to his customers and clients, an entrepreneurial business owner has to delegate wisely.
What that means is that he must think of the various functions of his business in systemic ways. When he does so, there will be a variety of functions to which he needs to allocate manpower and resources such as marketing, sales, service delivery, fulfillment, customer relations, bookkeeping, compliance, procurement, and so on. Underlying all these separate functions there will be an admin framework(including AI) that allows all the above to function like clockwork without the entrepreneur. That’s the systemic view.
Of course, if this is a business providing professional services such as therapy services or consulting, the business owner can set aside time when he can perform these services which he enjoys, and provides such service while he works ON his business most of the time.
Such an arrangement is indeed optional and at the allocated time. Of course, the value of his service is at a premium. As the owner, his most valuable contribution to his own business is not to provide the same service as his other employees but to give strategic direction to his business which is above and beyond that of any of his employed service providers.
Hence to delegate intelligently is to allocate his manpower resources wisely to whichever function or system that will impact his business most, and to decide when there is a competing demand from 2 different systems, which is the priority. The entrepreneur also has to decide when he needs to employ more manpower so that his systems run like clockwork efficiently and effectively.
When his business begins to run smoothly with a positive cash flow, the entrepreneur's next task is to reflect and strategize on how he can grow his business, in what direction, location, and offering what products/services. Should it be the same, different, or related to what he is currently offering? That is a strategic decision only the business owner with expert advice can make.
A common advice given to entrepreneurs is to pay attention to self-care. This is the action of caring for his whole person, physically, mentally, and socially including spiritual needs. However, unlike employed executives, self-care is not an issue if the entrepreneur is in control of his time and work.
When that pertains, he has harmonious passion and can take time off to spend time on hobbies, and loved ones as well as to network with his peers. When cash flow and financial worries are constant, the entrepreneur is obsessed with the health of his business, and that is when his health gets impacted as well because the business has to survive.
The complete answer to burnout then is to get help to relieve the stress and reverse or prevent any symptoms of burnout. For the longer term, however, the answer is not just self-care.
The complete answer is to look at why there is stress in the first place, and for entrepreneurs, this will be the business that they have founded to fulfill their passion.
This is indeed what I have done during my practice as a therapist. Deal with the cause and origin of the stress while treating the symptoms. That is also the reason why I moved from dealing with entrepreneurial stress and burnout to business coaching and consultancy.
When you deal with the source of entrepreneurial burnout, you are immediately confronted mostly with cash flow issues or with manpower or other issues to do with strategic direction and implementation.
My simple phrase for the remedy to entrepreneurial burnout is therefore simply: to attend to the cashflow issues first. This ensures that the business is indeed a viable proposition. Next, look at the various systemic functions of your business to build the business capable of withstanding any future challenges and disruption.
Above all, do seek sound professional advice. Building a business is like building a house, it requires planning, discussion, using the right resources, and building it from the ground up on strong foundations.
Dr. Douglas Kong, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Douglas Kong is a Business and Performance coach. His mission is to help entrepreneurs, small business owners, CEOs, executives, and professionals to be resilient and function optimally, achieving optimal business growth by achieving profitability and scaling therefrom. He is a Certified Executive Coach and a Certified Master Life Coach. His background is that of a consultant psychiatrist and specialist in stress management, psychological trauma, psychoanalytic psychotherapy and has completed non-graduating courses on MBA topics in business management and leadership. He is a best-selling author and has written books on personal self-help and 2 books on business growth and scaling.
 Dr Douglas Kong (2013): 5 Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses To Increase Their Marketing ROI. Brainz Magazine Jun 27, https://www.brainzmagazine.com/post/5-marketing-strategies-for-small-businesses-to-increase-their-marketing-roi