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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

Want to Start a Business? Are You Santa or an Elf?

Written By: Catherine Morgan | 8 Comments

Note from Catherine: In this season of great joy and mass marketing, it seemed to make sense to publish an excerpt from Carol’s bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. This short section really stuck with me when I read it, and given the Santa and elf references, it seemed timely. Enjoy!

Are You Santa or an Elf?

I had one particular friend that desperately wanted to start her own business a few years ago. I was baffled when she told me this because in her previous jobs she had always complained when there was a lack of direction. When she was told what to do, this woman was a superstar. She was unstoppable. She could do anything and do it well. However, if you didn’t tell her what to do, then she did virtually nothing. She didn’t have the innate drive to “pick up the ball and run with it” unless someone specifically told her to do so.

Fortunately, after a few conversations covering this issue, she acknowledged that she did better work when she had specific guidance and decided against the entrepreneurial route (and is now in a fantastic job where she has been promoted twice).

Basically, you can’t run a business when you are waiting for directions. There is no goddess of entrepreneurism that will appear in a vision or pop out of the cash register and give you guidance and suggested next steps. Not only is it up to you as an entrepreneur to set the direction, strategy and work process for yourself, but you need to do that for every person in your organization. If you are a doer, not only will this task be daunting, it will be nearly impossible.

Core competencies are all about maximizing what you are best at—your innate skills and the areas in which you shine. If you are going to leave your comfort zone and try something new that is not aligned with your competencies, you may not want to test it out by starting a new business, where you have thousands of your own dollars on the line.

Assessing Your Strengths in Terms of Role

Write down the answers to the following questions:

1. When you interact in groups, what role do you typically play (and like to play)? The leader? The heavy lifter? The free rider?

2. Have you managed groups of people before now? If yes, what did you like and dislike about the managerial role?

3. How would you feel about managing employees, customers, and/or the direction of an organization?

4. Do you like to take on responsibility? Why or why not?

5. Do you like to take the ball and run with it or prefer to wait to be given specific instructions to follow?

6. Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on details?

If you aren’t sure about any of the above, ask some friends or colleagues to give you some feedback (make sure these people are “spinach in your teeth” people and not smoke-blowers).

Review your answers and write down next to each whether that preference or strength is more consistent with being a “Santa” or an “elf.”

If you are trending more toward elfdom, you will want to avoid running a business, which puts you squarely in the Santa position. Instead, con­sider taking your entrepreneurial spirit and put it toward your work in someone else’s organization.

So who are you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Article written by
Catherine Morgan is the editor of Business Unplugged ™, an engaging speaker, and the founder of Point A to Point B Transitions Inc., a virtual provider of coaching services to individuals who are in business or career transition. Catherine is the author of the eBook Re-Launch You: Discovering Your Point B and Embracing Possibility. An experienced independent consultant and former employee of three of the former Big Five consulting firms, Catherine combines strategy development with accountability coaching. Her productivity tips and career transition advice have been featured on WGN AM 720 and WIND AM 560 The Answer in Chicago, and on WCHE AM 1520 in the Philadelphia area. Catherine speaks frequently on topics related to productivity, career transition, small business, and entrepreneurship. She doesn’t take herself seriously, but takes her subject matter very seriously.
  • Really enjoyed this article. I can’t tell you how many “entrepreneurs” I’ve had waiting around all day for me to lead them. your advice is fantastic, you just can’t make it on your own that way so it’s better to find out first!

  • PointA_PointB

    @myuntangledlife So glad you enjoyed this. It was one of my favorite parts of Carol’s book.

  • This is so spot on in the descriptions of what you’re bottom line behavior is. Though I will say that it is possible to learn how to be Santa – it just takes a lot of work if you’re truly an Elf. I started as Elf-like – willing to do the work with direction, but yearning to be able to provide the direction myself. Actually, it was more like wanting to make the final decisions because I knew more than most of the managers I worked for. Eventually I stepped out on my own and had to deal with lack of skills – but was willing to learn them. Now my business is growing and I’m helping others to grow, too (team members). So while I agree with the overview, I would add the caveat that even if someone is Elf-trending, they can become a successful business owner if they’re willing to learn the new skills.

  • PointA_PointB

    @charlene I am glad you were able to find your inner Santa, Charlene. You make a good point that people can learn over time, however, many who start a business don’t budget the resources needed for that learning curve so consequently, don’t get the time they need to acquire skills and modify behaviors. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

  • JanLaundon

    I heard Carol speak tonight at Institute for Integrative Nutrition and found it very helpful. She brought up the Elf/kSanta Clause type person. I am definitely more elf but want to be a Santa Claus. I work as a massage therapist and like it because I am independent and only need to show up for the job which I do. I like helping others promote their business but have a hard time promoting my own Health Counseling business. I like being given specific directions but am also a huge idea person. The follow thru is the problem. As a result of listening to Carol tonight on a webinar and answering these questions I most definitely need to re-evalute how I am going to work as a Health Coach. I am inclined towards being aligned with an organization or individual who would send me clients. Getting the clients seems to be a daunting task for me. I think I will share these questions with the other students at IIN.

  • PointA_PointB

    @JanLaundon Hi Jan, it is always good to examine these kinds of issues in advance. Maybe joining a bigger practice where they do some of the marketing for you and there are other practitioners who can refer is an option? And you, in turn, would be able to contribute some of your ideas to them. As @charlene said below, she has been able to learn some of these skills. Over time, perhaps you could too. I think your current thought process will lead you to the option that is right for you at this time.

  • @JanLaundon It sounds like you’re on your way to being a Santa! Marketing is difficult for those not in the field (I’m the owner of an online marketing agency). But, your idea to align with a strategic partner to give/receive referrals is an excellent one. As a massage therapist you would benefit from a strategic relationship with anyone in the physical therapy field. You could also eventually join forces with strategic partners and create a wellness group at one location – with everyone pitching in for the marketing efforts (whether done in house or through an agency). Networking is the key.

  • LiynLing