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Why Entrepreneurs Are Really Terrible at Saying Thank You

Who would have thought that there would be some worthwhile words of wisdom coming from Glinda, the Good Witch, in Wicked? I saw Wicked again recently for the umpteenth time and I was struck by how relevant some of the lyrics from the song "Thank Goodness" were to the entrepreneurial mindset and to the ways many entrepreneurs behave. 

These pithy but poignant phrases were words that any struggling entrepreneur would recognize. And they are so timely as well, given that Thanksgiving is when we're all supposed to be so aggressively appreciative.

One of the things that we entrepreneurs don't do well is to say "thank you" fast enough or often enough to so many of the people that matter in our lives and who make our achievements possible. Not just thanks to our peers and team members, but to our friends, family, investors, advisors and mentors as well. Why is that? And why can't we do better? Sure, this could be a function of busy schedules and the fact that we're all in a hurry these days - although it's not actually that hard to be thankful and to take a minute or two to let someone know that you are. So that seems like a somewhat inadequate explanation. Praise and recognition are quick, easy and cost-effective ways to acknowledge and reward your team's contributions. And worth making time for. Success is definitely sweeter when it is shared.

But there are some deeper-seated startup psychologies at work and, while these aren't offered as excuses, at least they're a plausible explanation for some behaviors that don't otherwise make much personal or business sense. Frankly, entrepreneurs just aren't that conscientious about taking the time to say "thanks" to the people who helped them along the way. But I honestly don't think that this behavior is because most of us are unappreciative or simply ingrates.

I think it's more that we're uncomfortable and don't quite know how to handle these circumstances when we're thrust into the spotlight. Celebrations are so yesterday. They make you feel like your goals are behind you and that's just not how entrepreneurs look at the world. So we tend to clam up and try to soldier through the ceremonies, but our heads aren't really in the game. We're somewhat awkward, completely stuck in our own minds, and maybe a little tongue-tied in these cases because - in some respects - we just don't believe or buy into the whole process. And we're a little surprised to find ourselves in such a spot. It's a little hard to be gracious when your principal goal is to get off the stage.

In Wicked, Glinda is supposed to be joyously celebrating her engagement, but, as things progress and she sings about how "happy" she is, we hear more and more of a tone that suggests that she's got some very mixed feelings about what's going on around her. According to the crowd and the conventional wisdom, her "dreams" have all come true, but she's not so sure. She says that "it is, I admit, the tiniest bit unlike I anticipated".

And, instead of being a happy and simple time, "getting your dreams - it's strange, but it seems a little - well - complicated." She knows that she should be overjoyed and grateful, but she's not quite there yet. We've all been in similar circumstances - waiting for someone to pinch us to make sure things are real. And it's also a bit of the "dog that caught the car" syndrome. You finally grabbed the brass ring that you've been chasing for a while. Now what? And maybe even more importantly, you find yourself - just like Glinda - wondering what you had to give up in the process to get there.

Most of the best entrepreneurs I know would tell you that they do a lot better in tough times and in dealing with adversity than they do with success and when things are working out well. Success is a little like wine. It's just hard for a true entrepreneur to believe in it. You don't believe in wine. You drink it, enjoy it for a moment, and then you try to get on with your life. Entrepreneurs are superstitious and they want to get back to work before anyone notices and before anyone can snatch the moment away. For a lot of us who are confirmed paranoids, these "celebrations" are rarely joyous occasions. At best, they're waystations on what we expect to be a much longer and harder road ahead.

It also has something to do with authenticity as every returning vet will tell you. Only the guys actually in the trenches - the entrepreneurs themselves - really know how close to the line things got - how near to the edge they came - and how much luck (and even a little fear) had to do with the outcome. And only the entrepreneur knows all the sacrifices that it took to get there and how quickly these things can turn around and race in the wrong direction. Glinda says: "There's a kind of a sort of a cost. There's a couple of things get lost. There are bridges you cross you didn't know you crossed until you've crossed." These things are hard to share with folks who haven't been there.

And then there's this crazy idea that has you asking yourself exactly how big a deal it could be if you (of all people) are able to pull it off. It's a little hard to congratulate and thank your teammates when you're not sure whether you even deserve the credit in the first place. The battle's always far from over, there's no finish line - just another hill, and it's a lot more like sitting on tacks than it is resting on your laurels.

The world thinks that most entrepreneurs are beyond confident, if not arrogant, but the truth is that they're mostly scared little guys running full speed ahead, jumping over the potholes, and trying to look over both their shoulders to see who's coming up behind them to take their toys away.

Is it any wonder that they forget from time to time to say thank you for the honor?


About the Author

Howard A. Tullman, CEO, 1871

Howard Tullman has over 45 years of start-up, management, IPO and turn-around experience and an extensive operations background in web development, online services, large-scale information assembly and delivery systems, database design and implementation and the development, creation and production of all types and formats of multimedia, computer games and audio/video digital content. He has designed and developed GUI and natural user interfaces, interactive and immersive games and instruction systems and other electronic entertainments, training products and services, as well as other information-based products and services in a variety of fields including automotive, insurance, CRM, employment, real estate, consumer goods and social media.

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