One of the traits often cited (and yes, sometimes even by me) as part of a successful entrepreneur’s arsenal is confidence. And it is certainly true that being sure of oneself makes it easier to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Confidence helps you make it through those nail-biting moments, the sleepless nights, and gut-wrenching fear that grips all of us at one time or another. After all, if you don’t believe in your concept, your product or service, or yourself, why are you wasting all that time, money, and energy?
But there’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness, and crossing that line can hurt — even destroy — your business. Running a successful business takes hard work. You can’t coast through on the basis of a good idea, a past glory, or wishful thinking. You’ve got to dive in and get your hands dirty. Some business owners are so sure their ideas are the best, that they are so much better or smarter than anyone else, they mistakenly think they don’t have to work quite as hard.
The irony of all this is that overconfidence usually stems from success. It’s so easy to get carried away, to believe your own press, to think you’re always right, that you never see what’s wrong or what needs to be fixed. But all is not lost. There are steps you can take to make sure you don’t get too carried away:
- Don’t surround yourself with “yes” people. True leaders encourage people to say “no,” to challenge them, to tell them the truth. I’ve worked with people who surrounded themselves with “true believers,” people who only told them what they wanted to hear. Believe me, that will put you on the fast track to failure.
- Don’t retaliate against the truth-tellers. It’s very easy to blame the person who tells you that all is not as rosy as you think it is. But all that will do is make your staff afraid to tell you the truth and shut off the free flow of information.
- Listen to your customers. “What have you done for me lately?” Likely that’s how your customers and clients view you. They don’t really care about how great you were last year or last month. They want to know what you’re going to do for them now and what you can offer them tomorrow.
- Take responsibility. Entrepreneurs who are so infatuated with their own success often think they’re infallible. So when something goes awry (and we all know that’s bound to happen), they never accept responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault. Too much of that behavior will send your staff packing until you’re surrounded by those “yes” people I just mentioned.
- Remember the importance of teamwork. A business is only as successful as the sum of its parts. A successful business gets that way because of the actions of many. It takes you, your employees, your suppliers, and your customers to grow a business. In other words, it’s not all about you.
- Don’t rest on your laurels. Yesterday’s accomplishments are, well, yesterday’s accomplishments. You have to continually set new goals, adapt, and evolve or you’ll soon be an endangered business.
This problem doesn’t just solely afflict business owners; make sure incompetent employees aren’t masking their own shortcomings with overconfidence. We all know the type — the person who is so sure of their abilities, who isn’t collaborative because they know it all, who is full of lofty goals, but lacks a plan to achieve them. Rather than doing great things for your company (like they claim to), they’re likely alienating fellow staffers and turning off customers.
All that said, I do believe that entrepreneurs need to have the courage of their convictions. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? But it’s all about balance. It’s smart business to always stay a little afraid. Not enough to paralyze you, of course, but a small dose of uncertainty to make you try harder, focus better, and strive for perfection. Sounds like a formula for success to me.