Successful entrepreneurs must consistently focus on improving and promoting themselves and their companies. Personal motivation, individual sacrifice, and self-promotion are necessary and important components to moving a business forward. But once the herculean task of creating a business has been accomplished, entrepreneurs must shift from focusing on the “self” to the “self-less” to keep their companies operating smoothly and effectively.
In a recently published study, Professor Bradley Owens and colleagues found that narcissists, or individuals with a “grandiose yet fragile sense of self as well as a preoccupation with success and demands for admiration,” can be effective leaders by “practicing humility,” or implementing “self-less” practices that ameliorate the negative effects of narcissism. While this study focuses on the negative effects of narcissism, Owens et al. (2015) also found some potentially positive elements of narcissism, such as vision, boldness, persistence through challenges, and very high confidence—critical characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. This study shows that practicing humility helps temper the more toxic aspects of narcissism, enabling these potentially productive aspects to enhance the leader’s effectiveness.
I am not suggesting that entrepreneurs are narcissists; rather, the initial phase of entrepreneurship requires self-oriented tasks to be successful. In the second phase, an entrepreneur must be open to ideas, improve listening, support a strong team, be willing to make mistakes, delegate, and recognize team efforts to lead his employees and his company to company stability and greater success. Here’s how you can make that leap with confidence.
1. Welcome new ideas. You have been the “go-to” guy from the beginning. You have stood by your vision, and you have defended your business plan. Now that you have established a business team, it’s time to utilize the talents of that team and invite new ideas to the management table.
2. Listen. “Listening’s power, like that of smiling, is strong,” wrote Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People. “When you listen well, you not only make an instant impression, but you also build a solid bridge for lasting connection. Who can resist being around a person who suspends his thoughts in order to value yours?”
4. Be willing to make mistakes. I would never promote reckless decisions, but I do recognize that any startup has its share of risks. In an attempt to eliminate risks, many entrepreneurs study reports and analyze feedback and conduct meetings and host more meetings and—miss a golden opportunity. Don’t be so afraid to make a mistake that you are unable to act decisively. A mistake is merely a vehicle that carry you closer to a more thoroughly vetted idea and greater success.
5. Delegate. For many entrepreneurs, it is a challenge to delegate. But it’s a necessary component of building an effective business. “The entrepreneur’s job is effectively to put themselves out of a job each time the new company is up and running,” wrote Branson. “Then they can step aside and free themselves up to be entrepreneurial in a different business. It is generally asking for trouble for an entrepreneur to stick around for too long, trying to cover both roles.”
6. Recognize team efforts in success. Michael Jordan had a legendary basketball career with the Chicago Bulls, but there were four other men on the court setting up the play for Jordan to make the shot. In much the same way, every successful entrepreneur has attained success by relying on the talents of a strong management team.
On the flip side, be careful to accept responsibility when a team effort fails. Carnegie states that the worst quality in leaders is “taking credit when things go well and dishing out blame when things go wrong.”
Practicing humility is not about erasing the self. It takes a strong sense of self to incorporate cooperative ideas, practice attentive listening, recognize personal limitations while encouraging strengths in others, recognize the lessons within mistakes, delegating, and recognizing team efforts in success. If you want to move beyond the start-up phase and develop a seasoned, stable, productive business, then practicing humility is the key to success.
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