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  • mattheelan

The Ignorance of Arrogance.

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." - Charles Darwin



I have worked with leaders and managers who exhibited both ignorance and arrogance. While I find both traits to be incompatible with my own leadership style, I believe that the combination of the two can be extremely detrimental to the organization. This is especially true when the founder of the company is also the leader who is plagued by these weaknesses. In such cases, the overconfidence and reluctance to adapt to changing market demands can pose a significant threat to the company's success and even its survival.

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of working for seven Founder-led CEOs. These were privately held companies that offered a wide range of professional services and technology solutions to clients across various industries. From global law firms and Fortune 500 in-house counsel, healthcare systems, innovation teams, technology companies, physicians, attorneys, researchers, and computer and data science engineers, these companies catered to a diverse clientele. They ranged in size, with revenues varying from $1 million to $20 million and teams ranging from 20 to 250 members.

Although I have worked with these entrepreneurs, I have never founded a company or been a CEO. Therefore, I cannot fully comprehend what it takes to transition from a founder's mindset to a CEO's mindset. Nevertheless, over the years, I have witnessed some of the challenges, frustrations, and crises that arise when founders undergo this transition.

"In technology, failure is often a precondition to future successes, while prosperity can be the beginning of the end." - Jacquie McNish, author of Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry.

Take the case of Mike Lazaridis, the Co-founder, Electrical Engineer, and CEO of Blackberry. Despite being a highly respected figure in the industry (even today, lawyers reminisce about their Blackberries), Blackberry ultimately failed due to a variety of reasons, one of which was Mike's inability to acknowledge his own limitations. As the company's founder, it was natural for him to feel a sense of ownership and expertise over every aspect of the business. However, when consumers began demanding new features like touchscreens and internet browsers, Mike's inability to listen to his team and reluctance to acknowledge his own knowledge gaps prevented Blackberry from keeping up with the competition. This is in stark contrast to someone like Steve Jobs, who actively sought out new ideas and input from his team while building the first iPhone. *(See note below) Ultimately, Mike's lack of humility and adaptability would be his downfall. During my time working with founder-led CEOs this is what I have learned:

  1. Vision: Since they are the ones who founded the company, they may have a strong attachment to their original vision and may struggle to pivot or adjust as the market changes.

  2. Delegating: Founders may have a hard time letting go of certain responsibilities and delegating tasks to others, which can lead to burnout and a lack of scalability.

  3. Change: Founders may resist change or new ideas, as they have a deep attachment to the company's original culture and values.

  4. Experience: Many founders are not experienced in managing teams, scaling businesses, or handling complex financial matters, which can lead to challenges in these areas.

  5. Networking: Founders may have a limited network of contacts or industry connections, which can make it more difficult to secure partnerships, funding, or other resources.

  6. Emotional attachment: As the company is often seen as an extension of him or her, founders may struggle to separate their emotions from business decisions, which can lead to poor choices.

  7. Succession planning: Founders may struggle with planning for their eventual departure from the company, as they may feel that no one can replace them or continue their vision. This can lead to challenges in grooming and retaining talent for leadership roles.

The majority of CEOs who have hired me in the past to run their companies have recognized the need for help in these seven areas, along with some coaching, counseling, and advising. The successful ones understand the importance of acknowledging what they don't know and seeking out the skills, expertise, and experience they lack in order to grow their business. By recognizing their limitations and actively seeking support, these CEOs demonstrate a commitment to their company's success and a willingness to learn and grow as leaders. *Note: In 2004 Apple team members pitched the idea of turning the iPod into a phone to which Jobs responded with, "Why the f@*& would we do that? That is the dumbest idea I've ever heard."

"The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance." - Albert Einstein



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