Three Paths to Entrepreneurial Bliss

Last Updated Aug 17, 2010 8:34 PM EDT

What makes for a blissfully happy business owner? Soaring revenues, hefty profits, and fabulous cash flow? Guess again. Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness atWork: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful - No Matter What (McGraw-Hill, 2010), has an entirely different perspective on success and happiness. He is probably best know for his course "Creativity and Personal Mastery", which he has taught at Columbia Business School, and several other prestigious universities. The course is so popular and transformative that it even has its own alumni association. I recently spoke with Rao (who is one part management guru, one part philosopher, and one part swami) and asked him how his ideas might apply to entrepreneurs. Courtesy of Rao, here's your road map to entrepreneurial bliss:
Invest in the success of your team. "No entrepreneur is ever going to succeed individually," says Rao. "He or she has to work through a team - the customers, vendors, and other people who support what they're doing." But entrepreneurs have a habit of viewing people as "mechanisms" to help them achieve their goals and, says Rao, "in a subtle way it demeans the relationship." Instead, he suggests "entrepreneurs should think 'is there anything I can do to help that person do the best he or she is capable of doing as a human being?' If they can stat thinking along those lines, it makes them tremendously more efficient as managers. If you want success, help everyone reach their highest potential, and your own success will be a by-product and come effortlessly."

Emphasize process, not outcome. "Entrepreneurs all think in terms of the "if-then" model," Rao notes. The brass ring might be a revenue goal, landing a big customer, or having enough cash to move into new offices. The trouble with focusing on outcomes, says Rao, is that they are totally beyond your control. "The point is that even if you do achieve your goals, wonderful things may or may not happen," he says. And those wonderful things will always be replaced by something else you think you need - like an even bigger office and more customers. "But you're not going to enjoy the journey," cautions Rao, and that's the one thing you can control. His advice: "Focus on outcomes only to the extent that it gives you direction. Then forget about outcomes and focus on the process."

Be mission-focused, not me-focused. Entrepreneurs who live in a "me-focused" universe fall into the trap of evaluating everything in terms of its immediate impact on them, says Rao. If a major customer has a problem and cancels an order, or a key employee suddenly quits, it helps enormously to remind yourself of your company's larger mission. "You need to start thinking in terms of the value that you are delivering to the world, and that has to be more important than what you want from an ego standpoint," says Rao. "If you define what you do in functional terms, you are either burnt out or you will be burnt out soon," he warns. And everyone, from garbage collectors to stockbrokers, can articulate a way in which they somehow make the world better. Focus on that larger mission, says Rao, and in tough times "forces that you can't image come to your rescue. And your employees become much more engaged."

Do Srikumar Rao's concepts strike a chord with you? Tell us about your own path to entrepreneurial bliss.

Resource: Watch a video of Srikumar Rao speaking on Ted.com
Smiley sign image from Flikr user Bob B. Brown, CC 2.0