A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here.
I get so tired of people being labeled “self-made,” whether by the media, their circle or themselves.
There is no such thing.
I can hear your thoughts across the miles. “Who is she to say there’s no such thing as self-made. Just because she didn’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t.”
I agree, I’m nobody, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is a well-known somebody and he says the same thing.
I always tell people that you can call me anything that you want. You can call me Arnold. You can call me Schwarzenegger. You can call me ‘the Austrian Oak.’ You can call me Schwarzy. You can call me Arnie. But don’t ever, ever call me the self‑made man.
It took a lot of help. None of us can make it alone. None of us. (…) And I have to say that it is important to acknowledge that, because people make it always sound that you did all this yourself.
I didn’t. I did it with a lot of help.
Yes, I was determined. Yes, I never listened to the naysayers. Yes, I had a great vision. Yes, I had the fire in the belly and all of those things, but I didn’t do it without the help.
Here’s the full video in case you think I made it up.
Now stand in front of the mirror and say three times, “I am not self-made.” Repeat twice daily until you believe it.
Have you noticed that people in general are more wrapped up in themselves than ever before?
Whether in words or pictures, they document and share what they eat, where they go, what they do and with whom they do it, not just with their friends and known acquaintances, but with the world in general.
…narcissism levels have been rising for decades, which means that our world is increasingly self-centered, overconfident, and deluded.
And the next sentence really rang a bell.
Furthermore, these increases appear to be exacerbated among leaders, since those in charge of judging leadership potential often mistake confidence for competence.
Our politicians aren’t the only place where narcissism is running wild.
Narcissists are found at the helm of more and more companies of all sizes, but are especially prevalent in the financial sector and in tech.
In 2008 financial bosses with more confidence than competence brought the global economy to its knees.
Tech abounds with narcissistic founders and very few of them will stand the test of time, as have Jobs and Bezos.
Nor is narcissistic behavior limited to top bosses; it is found at every level of management, as well as every level of contributor — from new grads through the most senior contributor.
And lets not forget kindergartners through college.
We cannot make it alone, but we care too much about ourselves to genuinely care about others. This tension between our desire to get along with others and our desire to get ahead of them represents the fundamental conundrum of human affairs.
Much as I loathe the hype around “leaders,” it’s up to the positional leader to manage the get along/get ahead dichotomy if they are to have a successful organization.
I find it ironic that so many of those who preach the importance of data sets and evangelize data-based decisions, again, especially in tech, manage to ignore the hard data on what type of leader succeeds best.
Unfortunately, our admiration for charismatic leaders comes at a price: perpetuating the proliferation of narcissistic leaders. And while the existence of incredibly successful CEOs, such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos (and Rockefeller, Ford, and Disney before them), may suggest that narcissism is a beneficial leadership quality, most overconfident, entitled, and egotistical CEOs are not just ineffective but also destructive — even when they manage to attain a great deal of success. For example, narcissistic CEOs overpay when they acquire firms, costing their shareholders dearly. Their firms tend to perform in a volatile and unpredictable fashion, going from big wins to even bigger losses. They are often involved in counterproductive work behaviors, such as fraud. They are also more likely to abuse power and manipulate their followers, particularly those who are naïve and submissive.
Whether you are a boss or a worker, read the article; it’s short and will provide insights into your own actions, as well as those of your boss or the boss with whom you are interviewing.
“What if you could combine the service-model approach of Andreessen Horowitz, and the founder-first community building offline and online approach of First Round Capital, with the processing power and reach of Silicon Valley Angels, and the discretion of Floodgate and the judgment of Sequoia? No one else can make the claim that they are even building those pieces. That’s what we’re doing.”
But a lousy manager according to his people.
…a demanding boss who needed to sign off on all decisions including investments, yet rarely made himself available to do so.
Four years later it’s the story of how fast a privileged background, super-size chutzpah, plenty of swagger, negligent management skills and questionable actions can bring you down.
And the very gifts that enabled Rothenberg to start his fund and carve out a name for himself in the crowded valley venture scene — his youth, his Stanford and Harvard degrees, and his dense social network and splashy events — may have set the course for his fiasco.
It’s amazing to me, but looking back over a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.
I wrote this post back in 2009 and since then the number of narcissistic leaders in all walks has exploded. It’s literally a global epidemic, with tech leading (pun intended) the way, although the current crop of politicians is still out front. Read other Golden Oldies here.
“Leaders tend to be narcissistic, but you don’t have to be a narcissist to be a leader.” –Amy Brunell, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Newark campus.
“…narcissistic behavior is a “trait predicting charismatic leadership. People who are charismatic and charming… They think they’re entitled to it. They think they’re smarter than other people and they can get away with it.” –W. Keith Campbell, head of the psychology department at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Narcissism isn’t necessarily bad, but it is growing. When psychiatrists deemed it a bonafide personality disorder in the 1980’s it affected 1% of the population; in 2008 the number stood at around 6.2%.
Most politicians are narcissists, as are many media personalities (neither is surprising), but it seems that more and more business leaders fall in that category also.
There are 7 component traits that are measured.
Although I have no proof, I bet that most, if not all, Wall Street honchos would score fairly high on these traits.
“A study published in December in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people who score high in these traits are more likely to be leaders, but these individuals don’t necessarily perform any better and potentially may become destructive leaders.”
So much for the much-ballyhooed ‘charismatic leader’.
A couple of days ago KG sent me a link to an article questioning previous research, which found that bosses asking questions engender positive reactions and asked me what I thought.
But a 2015 study suggests that there’s one glaring exception to that phenomenon. According to the findings, men in leadership positions wind up looking less competent when they ask for other people’s help.
As usual, I found KG’s thoughts well worth sharing. I include mine mainly to add clarity to the flow.
Me: With regards to the “clever experiments” I don’t think a bunch of MBA students, who are often all-knowing and judgmental, are a good guide to managing an age-diverse team.
KG: Possibly, but as I’ve remarked in the past, the general culture appreciates “strong” leadership. See Bush II or Trump as examples. Or Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.
Me: True, but leadership still plays out within each specific culture and doesn’t always travel well. Also, your examples are the top dogs; there are leaders at every level and I don’t believe it plays out the same.
KG: Within a culture, little dogs follow top dogs. If the top dog displays certain behaviors, then the little ones will follow suit — we’ve all seen this in organizations.
The issue is that if it is expected that leaders are more than other humans, then we have a false view of leadership.
It is good for stroking the egos of those who are in leadership positions, but it leaves them exposed and ignorant. It should be unnecessary to appear as a demigod to be an effective leader in any culture.
In certain situations a leader must cut through and make decisions, either with limited visibility or high risk. In addition, there are many situations (especially if the group is in crisis) that a dictatorial style may be necessary. These, however, should be limited both in time and scope, because if they are prolonged they will end up damaging collaboration and initiative.
The truly great leaders, both from history and present day business, are those who are good at asking questions and keep asking questions. Genghis Khan was known for his insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and he was also the most successful military commander in history.
In effect it is our laziness and fear that makes us want to create demigods — beings who know better, with more power and understanding.
We want them to tell us what to do, rather than having to think ourselves, because thinking takes work and research. It is simply easier to hand it over to someone else who “knows better.”
Having done so, we are surprised when our leaders are corrupt, their promises broken and our lives affected negatively.
Can we continue to absolve ourselves of responsibility? Isn’t a leader just another human being with the same levels of fallibility and constraints that any other?
Maybe they are in different areas, but I have yet to meet another human that is good at everything or sees everything.
And even if these people exist, they will still be constrained by their perspective, which is determined by their position in the organization, background, etc.
Only by humbly asking questions, and daring to do so, will a more complete picture emerge.
This is because everyone has a piece of the puzzle, and sometimes this has to be cajoled out.
This is the true art of leaders, because the great ones then make decisions with better information and achieve better results.
What was your work history before you became a founder?
Many founders don’t have senior management experience, let alone CEO/President or COO experience.
Some are young; others were non-executive managers, team members or individual contributors.
Which is OK, if they recognize that having the title and filling the shoes are two different things.
That’s not just my comment; it’s what award winning journalist Soledad O’Brien, founder and CEO of Starfish Media Group, said about herself.
Another challenge was that I was successful in my previous role because I really worked hard and took a lot of responsibility for making things good. But that’s not actually a great skill for being a boss. The job of the boss is to help other people reach their goals and their dreams.
At what point will I actually grow into this job, because I have the title? At what point will I actually be making decisions like someone who is the C.E.O. of the company? I would say it took a solid year before I felt good about it.
And I’m willing to bet, based on her own words, that she has little interest in hiring “stars,” who are usually full of attitude and ego.
You hire for character and teach people skills. And environment is very important to me. It’s important to me that people aren’t unpleasant and that they treat each other respectfully. It’s hard to be creative when there’s someone or something that’s really irking you.
So are you a person of integrity who makes the environment a really nice space? I will watch how they treat the person at the front desk versus me.
Whatever kind of startup you have, take a few minutes to read the O’Brien interview.
Then look in the mirror and accept that no matter what your background is you probably have a steep learning curve before you become your title.
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read allIf the Shoe Fits posts here
This is a short post, because one of the linked articles is long and both are critical reading if you are, or planning at some point to be, a founder.
Founded in 2007, Powa Technologies is the perfect poster child for everything an out-of-control founder can do — from raising just over $200 million in debt and equity in less than three years, giving Powa unicorn status, to sending it down the drain.
At best, the collapse of Powa looks like a wildly overambitious attempt to force consumer behavior to match the ideas of a self-styled visionary. At worst, Powa seems to be a case of willful ignorance and a failure to acknowledge serious shortcomings, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to investors and hundreds of jobs for staff.
NGINX (pronounced “engine X”) started as an open source project in 2002 and became an actual company in 2011. Today powers 49% of the top 1,000 busiest websites in the world, including NASA, GoGo Inflight Internet, WordPress.com and Wikipedia. Since then it has raised only $41 million in 4 rounds and although its core product is still open source, it is generating substantial revenue from its paid services.
To actually make money, Nginx has a few menu items. First, Nginx Plus, an actual paid-software product that goes beyond the free version and offers customers deeper tools for managing their web apps.
Second, it has a consulting business, where its team of experts go in and help customers install and manage their Nginx-based architectures. That’s especially important as companies move toward microservices, which can be a bold new world for companies used to building software the traditional way. That business is growing quickly, Robertson says, with 300% more revenue in 2015 compared to 2014, though Nginx doesn’t disclose specific financials and he declined to comment on whether it’s profitable.
However, neither the investment nor the revenues have led to the typical lavish, San Francisco startup style.
Still, Nginx is keeping things fairly lean. Even with all of those users, its headcount only broke 100 recently, Robertson says, and the company tries to avoid “bloat” by adding only those features that users really need.
The problem is, as As Wally Bock succinctly said last year, “We live in a world of microwavable answers and quick fixes” — and bosses see stars as quick fixes,” and Yahoo’s board thought Mayer the star would quickly fix Yahoo.
But in a world where where people want star status in order to brand themselves, boards and bosses would do well to remember that they don’t come with any kind of money-back guarantee — in fact, they more often come with some kind of golden buyout.
Most star performers are a product of the ecosystem in which they perform. Change the management, culture, especially culture, or any other part of that ecosystem and stars may fall.
And never forget that that ecosystem is permeated by that insidious little detail that impacts success and is so often ignored in discussions — the economy.
As everyone knows, Yahoo isn’t Google, so…
A rising star at Google has become a falling star at Yahoo.
And a lesson learned for thinking bosses at any level, especially those responsible for hiring executive and strategic talent — the past is no guarantee of the future.
It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.
This particular Oldie is one of my favorites; probably because it poked such large holes in all the giant egos back in 2000. And it should do the same thing to the even larger egos walking around today. Read other Golden Oldies here.
Gotcha! I see all you readers twisting your arms in order to pat yourselves on the back because you know that even though you could improve at least you’re not incompetent.
Are you sure of that?
Way back in 2000 I read about research that stuck in my mind, an unfortunate reminder to me that I’m not nearly as good/smart/interesting/funny/etc. as I’d like to think I am.
It was done by Cornell’s Dr. David A. Dunning, who describes his research in the field of social psychology this way, “My social psychological work focuses on two related phenomena. First I am interested in why people tend to have overly favorable and objectively indefensible views of their own abilities, talents, and moral character. For example, a full 94% of college professors state that they do “above average” work, although it is statistically impossible for virtually everybody to be above average. Second, I am interested in how people bolster their sense of self-worth by carefully tailoring the judgments they make of others. That is, people tend to make judgments of others that reflect favorably back on themselves, doing so even when the self is not under explicit scrutiny.”
According to the research, “most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well…One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.”
Isn’t that encouraging.
How bad is it? “Asked to evaluate their performance on the test of logical reasoning, for example, subjects who scored only in the 12th percentile guessed that they had scored in the 62nd percentile, and deemed their overall skill at logical reasoning to be at the 68th percentile.”
However, since the skills that make you competent are the same that you use to evaluate your ability, if you’re good at something you’ll know, right?
Wrong! “Unlike unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study were likely to underestimate their competence.”
So, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The research did find that, “…a short training session in logical reasoning did improve the ability of low-scoring subjects to assess their performance realistically…”
But if you don’t know, why would you get the training? Or should you get it as preventative medicine.
Or maybe, just maybe, you should actually start listening to those around you and really hearing what they’re saying—even if it’s not complimentary, makes you uncomfortable and you don’t agree.
It doesn’t mean that “they” are always right, but if multiple people are all saying (by word or body language) the same thing, it’s very likely that they know something about you that you don’t know.