Entrepreneurs cannot be successful without healthy doses of self-confidence and self-esteem, but there is too often an excess of those two ingredients. Nonetheless, in the right amounts, they are crucial factors in success. Just as in any other recipe, having more than we need is not necessarily a good thing.
Healthy narcissism helps entrepreneurs to be creative and self-assured so that others will follow them. With their language, behaviour and conviction, they will be successful in convincing employees, suppliers and bankers. However, when there is too much narcissism, self-assurance turns to arrogance, risks are no longer calculated and doubt or criticism from anyone is prohibited. People who act impulsively believe that, if they are not free from limitations, their brilliant ideas will no longer emerge. With their stubborn behaviour, those entrepreneurs run straight to their ruin.
The more exaggerated their self-concept and self-esteem, the more fragile they become with regard to criticism. Therefore, they seek out “yes men,” employees and suppliers who act in the entrepreneurs’ shadow and venerate them, constantly agreeing with the way they think and act, merely feeding their self-sufficiency and egos. These self important human beings accept advice very well, as long as it is what they want to hear. They will soon remove people who argue, confront or criticize them.
The more entrepreneurs surround themselves with yes men, the less they will have a realistic mirror for their projects. The more they are deprived of realistic feedback, the more they are flirting with disaster.
It is said that the worst thing that can happen to entrepreneurs is to have a series of consecutive past successes. They then start to believe they are safe from any errors of judgment; they “have the recipe” or the ultimate truth. Inevitably, that success creates exaggerated self-confidence.
Therefore, great narcissists perceive information selectively. They become extremely vigilant about criticism and interpret it as a sign of betrayal, producing an often overblown reaction.
How do we avoid falling into this trap as entrepreneurs? Here are some different ways we can protect ourselves, as presented by major entrepreneurs:
- Have a board of directors.
- Always make decisions after having consulted a least one or two people capable of criticizing and playing the devil’s advocate.
- Invite an outside person to facilitate major decisions during meetings of the board of directors.
- Ensure we are not alone in moving a project forward. Consult and discuss with others, asking them to find negative points, weaknesses or aspects to be improved.
- Remember that past successes do not always guarantee future ones.
- Retain a little pessimism, which gets us wondering what will happen if it does not work out as we had anticipated. What negative points have we not yet seen? What would a sceptic tell us or say about our projects?
- Consult the people the project affects: what do they think of it, and how would they improve it?
Of course, to apply one or more of these strategies, we do not have to be convinced in advance that we possess the truth, but we do have to remember that there is a fallible human being behind every entrepreneur.
Work Psychologist, professionnal speaker, author and business coach
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