The Fourth Entrepreneurial Sin — Wrath

We continue the Seven Deadly Entrepreneurial Sins series that we started here. We’ve covered the two Operational Sins (Lust and Gluttony) that make you less effective as an owner. Sloth is the first of the Tactical sins; those that make your operation less effective. The second is Wrath.

wrathForget the dictionary definition of Wrath, although depending on how your employees see you, the part about “referring to divine retribution” may be appropriate. <grin> Wrath is, by anyone’s definition, created by a surplus of adrenalin.

If you are the founder of your business, adrenalin probably got you through long hours and late nights. It helped take your game to another level when failure wasn’t an option. It still comes in handy when you walk into the business tired or preoccupied, and find that you have to immediately launch into firefighting mode. But Wrath, depending on adrenalin to deal with problems, has no place in a well-run company.

Steven Covey said that the more time you spend in his urgent/important quadrant of task rankings, the less time you have for real CEO activities. Eventually you will only have time for urgent/important, moving from crisis to crisis with barely enough time to catch your breath in between.

When there are delays, or a flood of work that strains capacity, is your standard answer that everyone just has to buckle down and work harder? Do you worry about taking vacation because your employees will slack off without you there to drive them? Are you frustrated by their lack of urgency? Are you a willing listener when employees complain about each other?

Your adrenal glands (you have two) have a species-survival purpose. When faced with a “fight or flight” decision (“Uh oh, big animal, do I try to kill it or is it going to kill me?”), an adrenaline surge increases you heart rate and floods blood to the brain. You think faster, feel stronger, and are less conscious of pain.

This is a business, rather than a medical column,  so I’ll go lightly on the effects of Adrenal Fatigue; but it is a real syndrome, and I’ve seen may business owners suffer from it. Just like any other organ, adrenal glands can be pressed to maximum performance for only so long before they start to deteriorate. Once you reach the “burnout” stage of continuous exhaustion, and start having difficulty in making decisions, it usually takes six months or more to recover.

The Business Virtue that counters Wrath is Planning. We aren’t talking about high-level Strategic Planning. While that is advisable, no strategic plan can anticipate the day-to-day issues of running the company. That’s why Wrath is a Tactical Sin.

Any amount of planning will lower your adrenalin abuse. What would happen if your thought was; “I hear a noise around the next turn in the trail. It might be a big animal. If it is a deer, I’ll kill it for dinner. If it is a lion, I’ll run.”

Do you feel the difference in your reaction, even to this hypothetical problem? You are still ready to use your fight-or-flight mechanisms to react, but that little bit of preparation increases your feeling of control, and reduces the adrenaline surge.

I once had a manager who insisted on meeting me in the parking lot each morning with his problem of the day. I told him repeatedly that if he didn’t at least wait until I had a cup of coffee and got into my office, I would fire him. He never could get that. He thought his problem was the most important thing on the planet, and he had to tell me about it as soon as possible. So I fired him.

Planning starts with today. Consider a huddle in the morning with your key people to discuss their plan for the day’s activities. If most of your crises are passed upwards to you, have your direct reports start planning tomorrow’s activities. Once you get them in the habit of planning for a day or two, start them on planning for the next week. Most importantly, don’t fall back on Wrath when they are slow to get it.

I have a client who has built a number of successful locations for his retail business. He recently told me, “I worry that I’ve lost my appetite for risk. Years ago I would drive past a location I liked, and within a few months we’d have a new store there. Now I go through so much research and debate about traffic, demographics, return on improvements and lease negotiations. Have I lost my nerve?”

I pointed out that his increased reliance on planning likely came from some of his experience with the results of not planning. He agreed, and that made him feel better.


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The Third Entrepreneurial Sin — Sloth

This week we begin discussing the tactical sins. They are those habits of a business owner that impact day-to-day operations; Sloth, Wrath and Greed. To read this series from the beginning, start here.

Few business owners would acknowledge that they suffer from Sloth. Most work very hard. To paraphrase an old New Yorker cartoon, “The thing I like best about self-employment is that I can make my own hours. I’ve chosen to work 24 hours a day.” (Also, see Lust.)

good enoughSloth in your business isn’t a disinclination to put in the effort. It’s the sin of settling for “good enough.”

If your sales are flat, margins are shrinking or you never experience employee turnover, you may be suffering from Sloth. If you accept financial reporting that is late (after the 15th of the following month), or worry that you wouldn’t know what to do if a major customer defected to a competitor, you are definitely guilty.

There are things you say to your employees that indicate Sloth. Listen for these clues:

  • “I know the order isn’t complete, but we are late already. Ship what we have.”
  • “Yes, that’s Bob’s responsibility, but I’d rather you handled it.”
  • “The bank wants to see our financials. When should I say they’ll be ready?”
  • “I think we are making a good profit. We are paying the bills.”

Managing your business isn’t a matter of finding the lowest common denominator. Just because you aren’t going broke doesn’t mean you are running a great company.

The “Business Virtue” that counters Sloth is Benchmarking; the ability to measure your results against a standard. Various management approaches extol Balanced Scorecards, and Key Performance Indicators. “Manage what you measure” is an axiom that is frequently quoted, but far less applied in day-to-day operations.

Benchmarking your company requires that you know how others in your industry or market fare. It doesn’t require industrial espionage. Trade associations, banks and accounting firms have statistical reports with financial metrics by industrial code and company size, most of which they will share on request. Knowing where you stand against other who run businesses like yours is a first step in knowing whether you are doing well, or just surviving.

At the very least, know where your company stands against itself. I’m surprised by how many business owners can’t tell me how their ratios look compared to last year, or the direction of their margin and expense trends.

Internally, Benchmarking requires that you set measurable standards of employee performance. Are your expectations made clear via goals and objectives with concrete deadlines? Is advancement tied to achieving these, or do raises and promotions come because someone is good enough? When was the last time you terminated someone for not improving?

I knew an owner who reviewed a lower-level employee. The worker had a specific job that only he did. He had production goals, which were met in the previous year and qualified him for a raise. The owner congratulated him, and then said “Let’s look at what could be better, so we will know whether you have earned your next salary increase.”

The employee exclaimed “You people are never happy. I quit!” and walked out. He spoke the truth, but the business was in the top 1% of profitability in its industry. They didn’t get there overnight. It took many years of looking for (and measuring) what could be better. Their quest for improvement would not be abandoned for an employee who felt that he was already “good enough.”

Sloth isn’t laziness. It’s the insidious creep that begins when an owner has too much on his or her plate, and lets slide the things that aren’t an immediate problem. Left too long, it may be the most difficult sin to root out of a company’s culture. That’s why we first discussed the sins that affect an owner’s personal performance, Lust and Gluttony. Only after you have tuned up your own efficiency can you begin to work on the issues surrounding you.

I hope you enjoy Awake at 2 o’clock? Please share it with other business owners.


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One Response to The Third Entrepreneurial Sin — Sloth

  1. Chuck Graziano says:

    Great comments, John. Looking to the next level for a business owner is a critical part of surviving, yet many only give benchmarking lip service and continue with their “it’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. I recently worked with a service company whose policy it was to return all customer calls within 24 hours. Many of their service reps looked at it as “I don’t have to return my calls until tomorrow”. I wonder how they’d respond if their car battery were dead and the auto club had a policy to call back “tomorrow”.

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The Second Entrepreneurial Sin – Gluttony

This is the third in our series about The Seven Deadly Entrepreneurial Sins. You can start from the beginning here.

Gluttony is the second of the Operational Sins; those that reduce your personal effectiveness as an owner and the leader of your company. There are a number of indicators that you might be guilty of Gluttony.

  • You are the first person to arrive every morning
  • You’re the last one to leave at night
  • You work weekends, but your employees don’t
  • Your “to do” list can’t fit on one sheet of paper
  • Even when you use columns
  • You only work on the next deadline
  • All of the above

do everything notesThe glutton entrepreneur takes pride in being able to do every job in the company better than anyone else. His or her answer to problems and delays is “Never mind, I’ll just do it myself.”

The worst sign is when you cringe at a big new sale, because it only means more work for you.

The Entrepreneurs “Catch-22” goes something like this:

“I could make this company take off if only I had one more really good employee, but good people cost more than we can afford right now, so I can’t make that key hire until we grow just a bit more, but I can’t see how we are going to grow, because I’m working as hard as I can right now, and I can’t accomplish any more until I have one more good employee.”

If this sounds like you, then it’s a good bet that your employees have been trained to delegate up. Delegation is the business virtue that counters entrepreneurial Gluttony.

My thanks to Ken Blanchard and William Oncken Jr. For their book The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary of publication, it’s still one of the best “how to” guides on delegation. (and remains in Amazon’s top 10,000 sellers.)

Employees will delegate to you if you let them. It’s not like they say “Boss, I’m assigning this to you.” Instead, they appeal to your ego as chief problem-solver and decision-maker.

“Hey Boss, we’ve run into a problem,” “They still haven’t gotten back to me.” “I’m not sure what to do next.” “You know more about this than I do.” Rest assured, your employees have learned the code that makes you stop what you are doing and dash to the nearest phone booth (good luck with that!) to put on your Superman cape.

Blanchard and Oncken describe four simple steps for effective delegation.

Develop a straddle reflex, and define the next step. Be especially careful of the word “we.” If you didn’t have the problem before this conversation, why should it be yours when it’s over? Employees who aren’t accustomed to problem-solving can’t think through every iteration of possible outcomes. Start by getting them to determine the next step, so that the action required seems more manageable.

Assign responsibility. Sometimes it really is your problem. If not, get the employee’s acknowledgement that he or she is the one who will make the next (clearly defined) move.

Insure the risk. The outcome of every decision has implications. If the risk is low, tell the employee to act and then inform you of the results. If the risk is high, make sure you OK the next move before it is implemented.

Schedule the follow up. The employee should understand clearly that the next move has a specific time frame for action. Put a follow up meeting on the calendar (and stick to it.) If you feel the employee is procrastinating, move the meeting forward.

You have to take smaller steps at the beginning. As your employees learn that you won’t take the problems off their hands, they will bring fewer of them to you. As they learn to tackle issues in steps, they will be able to go longer between follow ups.

Building a system for teaching others to work without your constant input frees you focus on the things that will move your Personal Vision forward. Tackle Lust first, then Gluttony. You can only tackle broader challenges in your business after you’ve dealt with your personal effectiveness.

Next week we’ll start the Tactical Sins; Sloth, Wrath and Greed.

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2 Responses to The Second Entrepreneurial Sin – Gluttony

  1. John Meetz says:

    Good how can I sign up my members and select prospects to receive this weekly email?


    • John F. Dini says:


      You can sign them up with their email, but they will still have to confirm when they get the opt-in from us.

      We sign our members up, and just send them an email saying we think they’d enjoy the column, and please accept the opt-in. Of course, they can unsubscribe at any time.


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The Seven Deadly Sins of an Entrepreneur – Lust

Last week we described the Seven Deadly Sins of an Entrepreneur. This week, we’ll delve into the first Operational Sin; Lust.

The Operational Sins reduce your personal effectiveness as a business owner. They prevent you from being as operationally effective, on a day-to-day basis, as you could or should be. If you aren’t efficient in your leadership role, it cascades down through your whole organization.

lust handLust is the sin that springs from a lack of self-control. As an owner, few people in your business (if any at all) say no to you. They ask, “Boss, did you do that really important thing you were supposed to do yesterday?” You respond, “No, because something more important came up.”

What does your employee say? It’s probably something like “Oh…Okay. Please let me know when you get around to it, so I can move forward on my job.” They don’t take you to task, so if you don’t manage yourself they just have to live with it.

Lust is defined as a passionate desire, an overwhelming enthusiasm. If we don’t have it, we can’t inspire others to accomplish great things. So what are signs that your Lust has gotten out of control?

Projects never get finished. Long-time customers “disappear” because you had other things on your radar. You get nasty surprises from your financials or operating results because you were paying attention to something else. You find yourself telling employees, “I’m the owner. That doesn’t apply to me!”

Lust results in business planning driven by “Whim du Jour.” A customer requests a new product or service. Because you think you can sell something, you commit the company’s resources to creating it without considering the implications to other parts of the business. “Hey, it doesn’t look that difficult. Let’s do it!”

You can’t enunciate a clear-cut vision for yourself, and therefore for the business. “I just want to make a decent living,” or “I don’t want to work too hard,” are your only yardsticks for the future.

You trust to luck when trying new things. “Let’s just give it a try,” becomes “Why didn’t we see that coming?”

The business virtue that counters Lust is a Personal Vision. What do you want and expect from your company? You are in business for a reason; the company is supposed to provide you with certain things in life. Are you clear on what those are, and how you will get them?

Start with the material things that would indicate your success as an owner. It can be a simple list, such as:

  • Work an average 35 hours a week
  • Own a house at the lake worth $350,000
  • Travel to Europe every two years
  • Put my daughter through medical school
  • Help lead a community agency dedicated to providing decent food for the poor
  • Teach a high school class in entrepreneurship

Be specific. Your goals should be solid enough to allow measurement of your progress. Once you have it nailed down, your Personal Vision starts to become a vision for your business.

How much revenue is needed to generate your target income? How many employees will it take to accomplish that goal? What growth rate is needed to get there by your target date?

Write it down, with all the specifics. Every coach and motivational author says to WRITE IT DOWN! Keep it in front of you, and refer to it often. Then start paying close attention to your daily activities as an owner.

How much of your time is spent moving the company forward? How many distractions are really necessary? Could you be doing things to realize your vision if someone else did what you are doing this moment? Is the business moving in a direction that will fulfill your Personal Vision, or is it holding you back?

A strong, written Personal Vision will help you prioritize your activities, set natural limits on interruptions, and keep your eye on the ball.

Defeating Lust is the first step towards success. As Cheshire Cat famously said; “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Thanks for reading Awake at 2 o’clock. Please share it with another business owner.

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One Response to The Seven Deadly Sins of an Entrepreneur – Lust

  1. Dennis Wilke says:

    Glad I noticed this article in my feed. Interesting and helpful for me in 2 ways. First, I’m frequently susceptible to the pitfalls of the business sin of “lust” as described above, so it’s a good reminder to make sure I devote time to assessing my personal vision clarity and progress. Second, I’ve been trying to connect my faith to my business life lately, starting with daily blog posts on LinkedIn. So, this 7 Deadly Sins of business approach is right up my alley. Thanks! Looking forward to more.

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The 7 Deadly Sins of an Entrepreneur

The Seven Deadly Sins are alive and well in small businesses today. Far from being a hoary religious holdover from the Dark Ages, they are practiced assiduously by entrepreneurs everywhere.

devil dancing in suitThere is something to be said for any concept that catches the public imagination for fifteen centuries. First postulated by Saint John Cassian around 400 AD, the sins were codified by Pope Gregory the Great in the late sixth century, and popularized by Dante Alighieri in “The Divine Comedy” in 1315. They remain present on a daily basis in many businesses  through the 21st century, 700 years on.

The Seven Deadly Sins are Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Greed , Envy and Pride. In a business, they can be divided into Operational, Tactical and Strategic sins.

The Operational Sins are Lust and Gluttony. Lust is present when the owner uses his or her power of position to pull the business in any direction he or she chooses. Gluttony is a tendency to hoard all authority and decision-making for yourself.

The Tactical Sins are Sloth, Wrath and Greed. Sloth in business is settling for “good enough,” when a bit more effort would produce a far better result. Wrath is using adrenalin to replace critical thinking, and reacting to problems by ratcheting up your emotional drive. Greed presents itself as the belief that every issue in the business could be solved by “just a little more.”

The Strategic Sins of Envy and Pride stem from the owner’s personal belief structures. Envy is the belief that no one has the same problems as you do. Pride is a conviction that the company can’t survive on a day to day basis without your special talents.

Christianity, of course, has corrective actions for the Seven Deadly Sins. Each sin has its counteracting virtue. For Lust there is Chastity. For Gluttony; Temperance. The sin of Sloth is counteracted by the virtue of Zeal, and that of Wrath by Kindness. Greed is foiled by Generosity, Envy by Love and Pride by Humility.

When applied to business ownership, the Entrepreneurial Sins also have corresponding “virtues” that can reduce or eliminate their negative effect on your business.

The Operational Sins require behavioral changes. The counter to Lust comes with having a Personal Vision. Gluttony is defeated with Delegation.

The Tactical Sins dissipate in the face of internal organizational  practices. Sloth can be overcome by Metrics; the use of clear goals and objectives. Wrath is far less of a problem in the presence of Planning. Greed lessens when there is objective Budgeting.

Strategic Sins are those that can be defeated with more long range initiatives. Envy falters in the face of Knowledge about your industry and your markets. Pride dies a natural death when you engage in Exit Planning.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Entrepreneurs is a fun way to look at much of what we do in our business. I’ve presented it a number of times as a workshop for local and national business groups, and the idea is catchy enough to have landed me an Easter Sunday television interview a few years ago.

You may not be inclined to New Year’s resolutions (I’m not, myself) but most of us start a fresh calendar with some level of intent to “do better.” We’ll spend the remainder of January examining the indicators of these sins in your business, and what you can do about them.

If you know a business owner who might benefit from correcting one or more of the Seven Deadly Entrepreneurial Sins, please forward this column so he or she can subscribe. Thanks!


Posted in Business Perspectives, Entrepreneurship, Exit Planning, John's Opinions, Leadership, Managing Employees, Strategy and Planning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to The 7 Deadly Sins of an Entrepreneur

  1. Mike Sharrow says:

    Excellent post, John. This strikes well at the principle that how every aspect of our business performance either honors God or does not, and no amount of philanthropy or good work negates the accountability to run an excellent enterprise. Balanced scorecard stuff on steroids. Thanks for sharing!

  2. John F. Dini says:

    Thanks Mike. I hope you like the rest of the series.

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