Master the Mind Game of Entrepreneurship

In Blog by Shirzad Chamine6 Comments

There is a significant “mind game” to entrepreneurship which I wish I had known when I founded my venture-backed software company.  Today, almost 20 years later, I have coached literally hundreds of CEOs and their executive teams on the mind game of being a leader.  Much of the lessons I teach are ones that I learned the hard way, by failing first.

I help leaders to focus on the tug of war raging inside their minds between the “Sage” voice that serves them versus the “Saboteur” voices that undermine them.  This war between Sage and Saboteur happens inside every mind, but it intensifies with most entrepreneurs.  The reason is that stress fuels the Saboteurs.  Research shows that only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential, due to the destructive power of their Saboteurs.

There are altogether 10 Saboteurs, our internal enemies.  Most people are undermined by a couple of them, depending on their personalities and background.  The 10 are the Judge, Controller, Victim, Restless, Stickler, Pleaser, Avoider, Hyper-Rational, Hyper-Achiever, and Hyper-Vigilant.  Entrepreneurs tend to be afflicted by a subset of these Saboteurs in particular.  For example:

The Judge causes the greatest damage.  In particular, it beats you down constantly over your flaws and mistakes.  Its lie is that unless it keeps beating you up over your imperfections, you won’t be driven and won’t amount to anything.  The Sage practices compassion towards yourself instead.  It helps you patch and mend your wounds before sending you out to fight another battle, rather than beating you up some more.  It recognizes and reminds you that you are an imperfect and fallible human being and that every mistake or failure can be turned into a great gift of learning.

The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to your own will.  By overdoing this, it causes resentment in others and also prevents them from developing themselves, as they are often forced to follow your way.   The Sage approaches leadership more like sailing.  It knows you can’t control the winds.  It keeps its directional focus with more fluidity and grace, rather than the rigidity of the Controller.  It knows sometimes you need to go forward at an angle and embrace rather than fight the winds.

The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships.  It causes you to be impatient with people’s emotions and regard emotions as unworthy of your time and attention.  The Sage in you knows that the most important things in relationships and life are actually outside the rational domain and the exlusively rational approach to them causes more damage than good.

The key to the mind game of leadership is to expose which of 10 Saboteurs are your primary internal enemy.  Then create a “mug shot” of it, profiling its key beliefs, assumptions, and feelings.  This helps you intercept the Saboteur when it shows up in your head and switch instead to the Sage alternative.  It takes a little practice, but the results are dramatic, gamechanging for the company, and lifechanging for the leader.

  • Great article Shirzad and an eye opener for me. As a small business owner in Atlanta GA, I can relate to my “super strong judge” and how much damage it has done and continues to do in my relationship to my employees, customers, vendors, etc. I plan to buy your book and/or attend one of your workshops to learn how to handle this “judge” inside me!


    Paul Bailey
    Atlanta GA

  • This is wonderful! I can identify so much with this. Really puts it in such a clear way. As a small business owner & struggling entrepreneur this really hits the nail right on the head. Now … I have some saboteur bashing to go do!

    • Thanks Kate. I am so glad you have found the ideas so relevant to your work and life. Please make sure you try the assessments and keep me posted on your progress.

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