Beware of Lemmings – Inside Enemies of Your Emerging Company

I originally wrote this post in October of 2008 after spending bit of time in probably most costly entrepreneurial ventures I have invested in. Even after 3 years this post still rings true to me, so I am updating it a bit and re-posting it.

I was reading “Failure as an event” post on Seth Godin’s blog. After self-deprecating himself talking about 20+ large entrepreneurial failures he was part of, Seth shared some of the lessons he has learned. The biggest one that caught my eye was: “Being the dumbest partner in a room of smart people is exactly where you want to be.” This sounded very much like a personal belief I have for myself. In any environment I choose to surround myself with extremely bright people. This is key to my personal growth. If I find myself in the opposite conditions, I simply choose to go somewhere else.

Another point I want to make is that much has been written on the topics of leadership, picking business partners, building winning teams, and successful formulas for startups. Walk into any bookstore and you will see rows upon rows of books on those topics. So why do so many founders and executives of emerging companies are still committing the sins all for the sake of their egos? Why do they surround themselves with these lemmings?

Since it is not uncommon for a young, gullible, and overly optimistic person to become a leader of a startup, let me point out the two types of these lemmings we all should be aware of:
1. Lemmings of the first type are just there to nod and place their managers and executives on the pedestal. From time to time they will nip at some small details, but they will never dare to question the foundation of ideas. The effect this has on the organization, that is still forming, is that if the foundation has cracks, the business has a higher likelihood of toppling.
2. Second type of those lemmings are the gullible, young, inexperienced, but definitely bravado-laden types. They are fresh out of the school, they have zero comprehension of how things work in the real world, they are so pumped to go move mountains… but they have no real idea where to start and they see these guys/gals with Cxx titles, so they assume those people must be geniuses. Those leaders must be towers of knowledge and experience. How else would they have gotten those huge titles? Overly strong reliance on the position in the hierarchy as a predictor of higher level of knowledge is just flawed.

As leaders/managers/executives, we need to watch our brainstorming and staff meetings. If the ratio of nodding heads, praises, and other ego-boosting actions is more than half (or worse – 100%), time to sit down and really get serious about our choices. Are we more interested in being agreed with and put on the pedestal, or do we want to succeed and create that wealth for ourself, our investors, and our teams?

The key rule to remember is that we, as leaders of our companies, need to be surrounded with the kind of people who make us feel we have a lot to learn. If you think you are the smartest person in the room… you chose the wrong people. And never, I repeat NEVER, forget to always ask your team to question you, “devils advocate” is always a must. There are many methods available for facilitation of that kind of analysis, you just need to pick one and stop enjoying the status quo.



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