Are You a Legend in Your Company (and your mind)?


Are you really as smart as you think you are? Do people who surround you constantly sing your praises? Do you make more bad decisions than you’d like?

Midsize companies are ‘grownup startups’ or live in niches, some for many decades. Most of them are privately owned and a majority is family owned. CEOs of midsize companies, usually the business owner, are used to being ‘the boss’. If they are in a ‘grownup startup’, those around them admire their entrepreneurial spirits and ability to ‘get things done’. Those in family owned companies and older companies tend to have long-timers who are loyal to the family/CEO and often want the ‘old times’ to continue. Employees are generally deferential to the CEO and every company has its share of brown-nosers.

According to Cornell psychologist David Dunning (the guy who came up with the observation about the unknown unknowns – you don’t know what you don’t know), human beings are terrible at self-assessment, often grading ourselves as far more intelligent and capable than we actually are (click here if you want to read more). If you are surrounded by people who pander to your self-assessment or don’t point out your obvious (to them) flaws, you can easily become a legend in your own mind.

You feel good about yourself because you see your superiority over poor performers or the less knowledgeable. You often do not see mistakes you make because you are often not competent to recognize them! People who are better (or different) see your mistakes but you don’t (Do you have a few of those people around you?). And, we are not competent enough to see how competent these ‘better’ people are (Do you look for them or do you look at the ones less competent and feel good about yourself?).

What can you do? • Other people are better at spotting your ‘blind spots’ than you can yourself. Find a mentor who will ‘tell you like it is’; hire an accountability coach who will tell you ‘when it is really done’ (and hold your feet to the fire until you do).• Make sure you hire people, particularly the ones that will work with you regularly, that are different than you. They should bring skills or perspectives that you don’t possess. Otherwise you are hiring clones.

• Surround yourself with at least a few friends who will show you your blind spots. You may not meet them often and you may tell them only one version but they can still provide perspective.• Do you have a Board of Directors or Advisory Board? If not, put one together that will bring different perspectives and not simply rubber-stamp what you do. They should ‘tell you like it is’ and point out your obvious flaws and ‘blind spots’? Some of your advisors should be more current on technology or the market than you. You should also have a some more seasoned business people than you.

Make sure you choose people whose incentives are aligned to help you make better decisions. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on them but you must choose wisely. Your spouse is generally a good ‘truth teller’ who has a vested interest in your success. If you fail, your spouse has to suffer through the consequences with you. Vendors are rarely good ‘truth tellers’ because most will tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

If you have the right group of people around you, you will have better relationships, get more done and recognize those better than you (to better you and your business). You will also make more right decisions than wrong ones, and drink more lemonade than Kool-Aid. Here’s to your success! 

Ram V. Iyer