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Articles - Entrepreneurial Couples

Living With an Authoritarian Entrepreneur

Monday, April 05, 1999




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


He's strong. He's driven. He works 70 hours a week. He loves his wife and children immensely. He feels alone. He needs a lot of emotional support. He is intolerant of laziness. He is a perfectionist. He doesn't sleep well. He never lets failure stop him from success. He doesn't trust many people, if any. He has a short fuse. He has to work for himself. When he plays, he plays hard too. He is an expert. He is reliable, when he's there. He always has the answer. He has an ironclad will.

He is easily hurt, especially by his family, who doesn't alwaysappreciate him. At least this is what he thinks. As an Authoritarian Entrepreneur, he believes that he is doing a good job for family and employees, regardless of their protests. He can only see his point of view and assumes that others agree with it or otherwise are too immature to understand. Because he believes he is doing what is best for everyone, he pushes ahead with his plans, often ignoring the challenges, complaints and cries of those he is pushing aside. He feels befuddled, hurt, and betrayed then, when his wife or a child leaves him or worse.

It is hard for this type of entrepreneur to understand that he is not the center of the universe. And it is equally hard for those who love him to know what to do to solve the serious emotional and relationship problems that are created in his high-energy wake. In fact the authoritarian entrepreneur has no awareness that he has any problems, which makes it exceedingly difficult to get help. He believes that complaints are coming from weak people who do not know how to run their lives, nor how to appreciate him for running theirs.

Often this type of entrepreneur is very successful at his business (although not all successful entrepreneurs are authoritarian).

Because of his drive and power, he can succeed where others fail, by sheer will power. He can be quite charismatic, so many will follow. But those who enter his inner circle, such as wife and children, know another side to this man. He can be selfish and cruel in his lack of trust for the very people who are closest to him. He can ignore their needs, giving love only when it is convenient for him. He is intimidating and will swiftly settle a dispute by severing the relationship.

The authoritarian entrepreneur is an example of a good quality gone awry. That is, he travels on the notion that "the end justifies the means." There is nothing wrong with having goals. In fact, goals are the rewards that all human beings strive for. But in addition to goals it is equally important to attend to the method of accomplishing those goals. If the means to the end are unethical or hurtful of others, it may be worthwhile to re-evaluate the methods to discover means that work just as well to accomplish the goal, yet are compatible and supportive of the ones you love. Not all goals are worth it, if they destroy the important human relationships you are working so hard to provide for. This end-justifies-the-means drive comes from an insecurity deep inside the authoritarian entrepreneur. Anything or anyone who gets in his way is likely to get run over, because he has such a strong need to prove that he is OK. The source of this insecurity depends upon the individual. It may come from a childhood experience of being abused or threatened by a critical, distant, or aloof parent, whom the entrepreneur could never please. It may come from the lessons of a traumatic experience, such as war combat, wherein the entrepreneur learned to stay alive by doing whatever it took. It may come from an actual organic disability, such as dyslexia, making schooling difficult, and the entrepreneur all the more determined to prove he is smart or smarter-than. Whatever, the reason, the authoritarian entrepreneur has a fear of failure, tucked away deep inside that drives him to succeed at whatever the cost.

As if this negative driving force were not enough to alienate wife, children, friends and employees, the authoritarian entrepreneur is in a never ending cycle. No matter how great his material success, these individuals never seem to believe that they have arrived. In fact, some wives report that the greater their husband's successes, the greater their drive, intolerance, cruelty, and . . . depression. It is the depression that is proof to the authoritarian entrepreneur that he has not yet achieved his goals, so he keeps pushing to drive the depression away. Unfortunately the depression is actually the signal that he is failing at life, that he is pushing away the loving relationships that can mend thewounds caused by childhood abuse, wartime combat or classroom humiliation. The very quality that helps the authoritarian entrepreneur survive childhood abuse, or life-threatening combat, or the ignominy of illiteracy . . . stubbornness, is both their strength and their demise. Being too stubborn to acknowledge their successes, and the love of their families is foolish and will destroy what they have worked so hard for. Yet stubbornness can be used to learn the skills to build a new life out of sharing the joy and love of personal achievement with your loved ones. If you are an authoritarian entrepreneur or the family member of one, use this stubbornness or personal strength to attack the problem and solve it. You have intelligence and drive. You have already proven that you can succeed. Now admit your flaws and rebalance your life. Grieve your losses. Learn to love. Break the pattern of insecurity in your family that began with an abusive parent, or a thoughtless teacher, or a war that shaped a vulnerable teenager. By keeping those fears buried, you are perpetuating the insecurity into the next generation. As much as that negative energy (i.e., fear, anger and depression) has served you to create wealth, it has also alienated your family. Is this really the legacy you wish to pass onto your children?