During the early days of my first startup, I stumbled upon a huge liability that was killing us quickly — me.
What’s funny is no one else needed to have this discovery. The rest of the organization had figured out long ago that I was immature, combative, prone to anxious tirades, and generally a pain in the ass to work with.
And looking back, I’m probably being kind.
As a Founder (and CEO), every single one of those idiosyncrasies becomes amplified a hundred-fold because my liabilities to the organization become rooted in every decision we make, every interaction we have, and the entire morale of the company.
If we don’t exercise some serious self-realization — and do it quickly — we may be creating one of the biggest hurdles our organization has to overcome.
“How do I know if I’m the liability?”
That’s the hard part.
As Founders, we’re often the last to know because our worlds aren’t entirely set up for total honesty. It requires some actual digging, which, to be fair, is a scary exploration. It helps to have a friend, mentor, co-worker, or spouse that we can trust enough to shoot us straight.
Finding an honest person is the easy part though. Asking the right questions is the hard part.
If we use polarizing queries like, “Do people think I’m a total jerk?” we’re going to invite potentially kinder responses in fear of offending us. But something more aspirational like, “Where should I be spending time improving myself?” could really open up some helpful insights.
Trust me, when we are the liability as Founders, it doesn’t take a ton of digging to get some honest responses. Not asking and digging is the real problem.
“What do I do if I’m the liability?”
Get in front of it.
Confront the people that we’ve offended or pushed away. In this day and age, fundamental honesty and contrition are a rare commodity. When I pulled people aside and started admitting, “Hey I didn’t realize what a jerk I sounded like in that last meeting…” it blew people away.
The truth is, I didn’t want to be a jerk, and I definitely didn’t want to be a liability. The reality is we can’t prevent ourselves from becoming our worst liability unless we take the time to assess ourselves fairly — and more importantly, do something about it.