By Scott Vollero
Most people love to please. Making others happy, or at least convincing ourselves that we’re making others happy, is a fundamental human desire. As a social species, we’re hardwired to demonstrate our value to other humans, whether to attract potential mates, earn the protection of a stronger rival, or simply to generate a little companionship in an unfriendly world.
Natural Born Pleasers
The hardwired drive to please compels some folks to try to be everything to everyone. They’re perennial pleasers, willing to say or do almost anything to engender a positive response in their foil.
Back when everyone lived in small, nomadic hunter-gatherer bands, it wasn’t too difficult to be everything to everyone. After all, “everyone” was probably just a few dozen people, most of whom did pretty much the same thing for a living.
In super-complex 21st century societies with hundreds-strong professional networks and razor-thin divisions of labor, everything to everyone is a pipe dream. People who seriously try to please everybody all the time are more likely to please no one — and they may face the temptation to take shortcuts or make ethical compromises that threaten the quality of their work, the integrity of their personal relationships, and the strength of their reputation.
Not a Good Look for New Business Owners
Entrepreneurs are particularly prone to what sociologists (probably should, but don’t) call the “everything to everyone fallacy.” When you’re doing your all to get a new company off the ground, it’s natural to try to build relationships by giving, giving and giving some more.
But even more so than individuals, businesses can’t be everything to everyone. That’s not how the market works, after all. There has to be some give and take. Inevitably, that means there have to be winners, losers and sore feelings.
Here’s how to avoid falling into the everything to everyone trap.
1. Hire the Best and Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
New business owners often have trouble letting go of things. They live by the mantra, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” That’s good advice under the right circumstances, but it’s simply not realistic for most business owners. The single best way to avoid being everything to everyone — and to avoid doing everything yourself — is to hire a trusted team and delegate as its members prove they’re able to handle increased responsibility.
2. Play to Your Strengths & Value
By the same token, it’s important to stick with what you’re good at. Don’t delegate the mission-critical tasks that you either don’t trust others to do at all, or don’t trust anyone to do as well as you. When you devote more time to your strengths, you strengthen your business by default.
3. Set Boundaries & Don’t Budge
When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to build bridges to vendors and customers by offering great deals that you can’t actually afford to sustain. It’s okay to make such offers, as long as you’re clear that they’re available only for a limited time and won’t be repeated. Continuing to offer unrealistic deals devalues your brand and increases the likelihood that you’ll be seen as a pushover, weakening your hand in future negotiations.
4. Work Off a Timeline
When you have 20 tasks in front of you, all of which needed to be done yesterday, you’re liable to try to be everywhere at once. Use a timeline with hard deadlines and regular status milestones to carve some order out of this chaos, and take on only those tasks that you know you can complete by the proscribed dates and times.
Are You Trying Too Hard to Please?
Trying to be everything to everyone probably isn’t the biggest mistake you can make as a budding entrepreneur, though it’s certainly in the running. More to the point, trying to please everyone all the time can lead to big headaches down the road — even if it’s tempting in the short term.
If you suspect that you’re trying too hard to please, step back and evaluate how you approach your business’s employees, customers and vendors. Ask a trusted advisor to provide unvarnished, unbiased advice about how to shape up. And, once you’ve diagnosed the problem, don’t be afraid to step up and break a few eggs. You’ll be better off for it in the long run.