Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Case study: Humility is good business

Today, I proved myself a hypocrite once again.

Part I

I spoke with an entrepreneur today who really rubbed me the wrong way because of his lack of humility and tact. FundingUniverse offered him a favor that he didn't necessarily deserve and he basically threw the favor back in my face by asking me to "sell him" on why he should accept our favor.

As a result our offer was withdrawn and now it may be difficult for this entrepreneur to raise angel capital here in Utah because his reaction to our offer indirectly insults the leadership of every angel group in the state (It's a long story, but trust me, it does.). Perhaps raising money in Utah isn't his goal -- I don't know. Regardless, his reputation in this area will take a major hit. And that stinks because this guy is an great entrepreneur with tremendous potential.

Part II

Fast-forward about four hours in the day to an important conversation with a new FundingUniverse team member who gave me some critical feedback on our business model. To make a long story short, the conversation was very difficult for me. I found myself foolishly defending decisions that I had sharply criticized weeks earlier in FundingUniverse team meetings. Why did I defend our mistakes? I lacked the humility to just say, "You're right. We were wrong. What would you suggest we do to solve the problem?" Now I have damaged my credibility with a valuable team member and wasted good problem solving time defending a moot point.

Part III

Here I am writing this post feeling sheepish for being a hypocrite, while hoping that the employee that I spoke with this afternoon reads this post and forgives me. :)

I've also relearned that humility -- not to be confused with sheepishness, cowardliness, or weakness -- is a tremendous asset for entrepreneurs who don't have time to damage relationships and defend past mistakes because of foolish pride.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Chris said...

Jeff - great post.

Life is about learning from our mistakes. You've provide a great example of that. My respect for you just went up a couple of notches! :)

7:03 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks Chris! (For some reason the link to Chris' blog is broken. Here's the link for those of you who haven't RSSd his feed yet: http://www.chrisknudsen.biz )

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Headwaters Bamboo said...

Hmm... And I was thinking maybe Chris was the entrepreneur your were talking about ;-)

11:49 AM  
Blogger JibberJobber Guy said...

Jeff, this is one of those great transparency posts that could have been titled "on leadership" or something like that. Thanks for sharing - its good to get this kind of insight into the leadership of Funding Universe.

Jason Alba
CEO - JibberJobber.com

3:08 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I appreciate the compliment, Jason. You're very kind.

7:27 PM  
Blogger egonomics said...

Jeff,
I appreciated the story. We just finished a book on the topic of humility in business, and you're right observations about the impact is right on with what we found in our research.

For example, in one survey, Fast Company asked 1,665 respondents to rate leaders in various types of organizations on their ability to lead. Of the abilities they saw in their leaders, characteristics like being passionate about work or ruthless for success rated high. Unselfishness rated dead last.

In one of our surveys, nearly eight out of ten people wish their organizations were more humble. Interestingly, when we’re teaching those same people and we begin the discussion of becoming more humble, there is hesitancy until we explore what humility really means.

As a trait, humility is the point of equilibrium between too much ego and not enough. Humility has a reputation of being the polar opposite of excessive ego. In fact, the exact opposite of excessive ego is no confidence at all. We found that humility provides the crucial balance between the two extremes. To borrow a phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous, humility doesn’t require we think less of ourselves, but that we think of ourselves less often.

Humility is not the equivalent of being weak, ignored, indifferent, boring, or a pushover. If it is to be a point of equilibrium, humility must include confidence, ambition, and willpower.

Without a clear understanding of what humility is though, it can be seen as a trait best left to special causes and religious leaders, but not businesspeople or entrepreneurs looking for capital.

If humility seems to be an out-dated concept in a fiercely competitive world, it’s because humility is misunderstood, understudied, and underused—and, consequently, underestimated. As an indispensable trait of great leadership (which I think is really what you were talking about), humility has to make its way past the pulpit of Sunday sermons and into cubicles and boardrooms.

Anyway, thanks for the post.

Best,

Steve

8:47 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

@Steve Thanks for the insight. I'm glad your book puts humility in the proper perspective. Too often humility is mistaken for weakness, when, IMHO, humility is necessary in order to see things as they really are. That's huge for business leadership.

We all have great talents, skills, and insights. But pride -- lack of humility -- blinds us from the fact that we have weaknesses and other people, companies, ways of thinking can help us find success more than we could ever achieve on our own.

Later tonight I'll blog about a great example of this from a great entrepreneur here in Utah.

2:56 PM  
Blogger David Mullings said...

I am truly glad to see such a post and it only increases my confidence in planning to work with FundingUniverse.

I am also glad to see such a post about humility and definitely want to purchase a copy of that book when it comes out.

I agree that we must learn from our mistakes AND the mistakes of others. I think we all can think of times when we could have been a little more humble.

My biggest issue though is what to do when you are being humble and a few still feel that you are cocky? I have had a few instances where people praise me for my humility and then a few say I am too cocky. Is it that the minority is envious that I am confident about my skills? That is what I want to address now.

1:36 PM  

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