It is well known both in academic and pop culture circles that the greatest blocker to a founder success is the founder. According to a recent Inc article, the most widely cited reason for business failure is “lack of founder self awareness”. Rarely does a founder fail at a company because of their gut instinct and subject matter expertise, they almost always fail because founders can’t get out of the way of themselves. The good news is that this is all easily overcome with a few self-confrontation exercises… And maybe with the help of a few enemies.
Step 1 — Eliminate Ego and Bias
Find 2–3 people in your life to tell you, you are wrong — this is the advice of Emperor Taizong, founder of the Tang Dynasty. Historians agree this was China’s most successful dynasty, often referred to as China’s golden age. Historians also credit the stability and longevity of the Tang dynasty to the leadership principles Taizong set forth. The most prolific was the concept of a “chief remonstrate”. The chief remonstrate council had full authority to tell him he was wrong. These were trusted advisors that he knew would give him an unbiased opinion and also had his best interests, and those of the empire, in mind. By surrounding yourself with people who have permission to tell you you are wrong, you can finally see where your blind spots are and overcome the ego that is hindering you and your business. Thoughtfully consider 2 to 3 people you trust that will be completely honest with you and ask them three simple questions:
· What are the characteristics of my ego?
· What are my blind spots?
· What are my biases?
Step 2 — Seek Believable Opinions
Find 2–3 people with “believability” — subject matter experts with proven histories of success, this is the advice of Ray Dalio, founder of what is considered the most successful hedge fund, Bridgewater. Believability is defined by a track record of three or more successes in a given area. Once you have your ego and bias in check through remonstration, you can clearly identify the areas of your business that you simply aren’t good at. From there, surround yourself with “believable counsel”, those whose opinions are informed by a track record of success. Seek to find among your employees and professional network a few people whom you know are good at what you aren’t good at. Hire professionals on short term contracts if needed.
Step 3 — Drive to Solutions, not friends… Consider an enemy or two
According to The Second Law of Power in Robert Green’s “48 Laws of Power”, you should never put too much trust in friends, but instead, learn how to use your enemies. Once you have your ego in check, and opinions from believable people, it is time to drive to a solution. As you narrow down to a solution, it can be very tempting to ask for feedback from people who like you. However research suggests that friends will almost certainly not tell you the truth you need to hear about your solution out of fear of hurting your feelings. Conversely, they may not be able to provide an unbiased view of your solution because of their own positive personal favorable bias towards you. In both cases, you run the risk of reintroducing bias back into your decision making process, causing you to choose the wrong solution.
While probably most of your counsel of advisers will be friendly people, it doesn’t hurt to enlist a few former enemies. Former enemies, especially ones where you are now on good terms, are often the most honest and unbiased people in your life. Former enemies will tell you like it is when you present your solution to them. If you choose to enlist former enemies, be sure to have a thick skin and realize their purpose in your life: it is not to make you feel good… It is to make you successful. There may be a lot of noise in what a former enemy may say to you, but there is always a truth signal. Work hard to find that signal.
If you find yourself stuck as a leader, not being able to get to your next set of goals, chances are you can’t get out of the way of yourself. By allowing remonstration, you can check your ego and bias, finding believable counsel will get you the opinions with which you need to act, and having a mix of trusted friends and former enemies will bring you to a clear solution to quickly and effectively break out and achieve the next level of success in your business.
About the Author
Darren Hoch is a managing partner and President at the Stone Door Group, a Cloud and DevOps consulting company founded by independent consultants for independent consultants. Stone Door Group takes all the guesswork out of becoming an independent consultant by providing opportunities to certify on new technologies and offering a pipeline of meaningful IT consulting jobs. To learn more, drop us an email at email@example.com.