Business strategy is personal – Anton Babushkin, PhD

*(the examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular)

As a psychoanalyst and an entrepreneur, I often think about the commonalities between these two disciplines.

Michael Watkins, writing in Harvard Business Review, defines business strategy as “a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making…it defines the actions people should take (and not take) and things they should prioritize (and not prioritize) to achieve desired results.”

Is there a psychological strategy for living one’s life, a strategy for success at work and in one’s relationships? In my experience, the answer—although highly specific to one’s life and circumstances—is yes.

My friend Zack, who is a lawyer with his own firm, has been in business for over ten years. We often turn to each other for support and counsel. Zack and I have commiserated over the years about the typical concerns of a CEO: The difficulty in finding and retaining talent; achieving sustainable profitability; choosing between a smaller market or pursuing multiple markets with more competition. Zack’s chief concern was personal: He found it difficult to stay organized. He was sometimes late to work. His lack of organization in billing for completed work affected the revenue flow for the firm.

Zack knew the solution: He needed help in getting his office in order. However, that meant that Zack had to acknowledge that something was wrong. This was the road block. Luckily, when he consulted with a thoughtful mental health professional, he confronted the source of his obstacle to success.

Zack grew up in a household where perfection was the standard. He adored his father, who was a hard-working and successful man. And he was exceedingly demanding. Zack recalled waiting for his father to come home from work to show off his report card. The father’s only comment was, “Why did you get that A minus?”

In his consultations, Zack realized that imperfection—the A minus— was an indication of failure. In reality, he was a knowledgeable and successful business owner, who needed a little help with tidying up. Zack defined the phrase, “tidying up” to mean that he was “stupid” or  “imperfect,” because of his father’s criticisms during his formative years. He was able to use this insight to modify his  business practices and to develop a new psychological strategy.

As the result of these psychological insights, when Zack is confronted with the impulse to avoid a task or a problem, he is able to pause and reflect: “Am I avoiding this because it implies I am weak and not successful? And if so, can I change my outlook and improve my reaction?” He has replaced this debilitating behavior with the assurance that, “I am already strong and competent, and this will help me be even more successful.”

Access to good psychological strategies is essential for interpersonal relationships and for overall successful behavior. However, we must first acknowledge the patterns that affect our decision-making. Sometimes, it helps to have an outside opinion to make that observation.

 

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