As an entrepreneur and startup founder, you are your business. You developed the idea and worked tirelessly to build the product, raise capital, and propel your startup’s growth. No one is better qualified than you to make decisions at your company. You are the expert – and that is the problem.
Research from the Loyola University of Chicago suggests that being an expert can make you more closed-minded in your thinking. The study found that people who perceive themselves to be experts tend to be less open minded to new ideas and alternative viewpoints. The scientists behind the study call this the “earned dogmatism effect” because we have a tendency to think in a more dogmatic, or closed-minded, way when we consider ourselves to be an expert.
Dr. Victor Otatti is a professor of psychology at Loyola University of Chicago and the study’s lead author. He said:
In our society, we tolerate more forceful and dogmatic expressions of opinion when the speaker is an expert than when the speaker is a novice. So, when the situation makes us feel like we are an ‘expert,’ it activates these role expectations in our mind, and we feel more entitled to dismiss, ignore, or disparage opinions and viewpoints that differ from our own opinion.
Stakes are high for entrepreneurs. You are burning through cash. Your product isn’t showing the traction you expected. You are a marketer, accountant, salesman, and engineer in one. The entrepreneurial journey is an overwhelming one, but Otatti’s research reminds us that the best leaders have to remain open minded, even in the most challenging circumstances. It may sound difficult for entrepreneurs, but the best leaders are able to remain open minded even when moving at a blistering pace.
Here are 3 ways you can put this into practice:
Adopt a Growth Mindset
If you haven’t watched Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk The Power of Believing You Can Improve, you should. Dweck’s work has demonstrated that everyone has endless capacity for lifelong learning and continued development. In her Ted Talk, she explains the importance of adopting a Growth Mindset in which you relish learning and teaching equally. She reminds us that the act of learning knows no hierarchy and no discrimination.
Successful books like Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup talk about the importance of learning, but only under the lens of the product creation process. It is equally important for entrepreneurs to be willing learners – to continually seek insight from those both inside and outside your organization. A good entrepreneur, especially an experienced one, finds ways to teach and nurture his or her team’s development. A great entrepreneur is willing to let their team do the same for them.
The last thing most startups have is time. However, at critical points during your company’s growth it may be necessary to pause before acting. Harvard Business Review published a great article on this topic When Was The Last Time You Asked, “Why Are We Doing It This Way?” that features executives at two companies – Target and Coca-Cola – and their process of taking the time to ask questions amidst the need to show measurable results for their shareholders. For example, when Target CEO Brian Cornell inherited a struggling company two years ago, he took the time to visit a significant number of stores and talk with customers and employees before making major strategic decisions. Although he was under pressure as a new CEO to deliver quick results for shareholders, he credits his patience in allowing him to make decisions that have propelled the company forward.
Pass the Credit
The act of recognizing an employee’s accomplishments and contributions is extraordinarily simple. Unfortunately, it is done far too infrequently in companies large and small. Leadership is giving and great leaders give credit as much as possible. It creates a culture of sharing credit amongst your organization and will scale with you as you grow. In addition, it helps minimize turnover, as studies have shown that companies that provide ample employee recognition have 31% lower voluntary turnover rates. As startups we compete vigorously for talent with established technology companies and we have to do everything we can to retain our top employees; something as small as employee recognition has a big impact on that process.
The process of starting and growing a company is so demanding it can lead you into being closed-minded. You put in the work. You earned it. You know your company best. I’ve personally felt this way at multiple points on my entrepreneurial journey. Unfortunately, your position as an ‘expert’ may be impacting your ability to succeed. Take the time to recognize this and be willing to be open-minded. The best leaders always are.