Don’t be Humble, Strive to be Awesome!

Posted by: roger in startupHumilityGeneralAwesome on Print PDF

I recently responded to a thread on the SiliconBeach email list that was looking at the issue of Australians underselling themselves and how this adversely affects their ability to get traction I the US. The post below is a slightly edited and cleaned up version.

In principle I agree with the sentiment that self-marketing is detracting from the SiliconBeach list, I reckon most people have met someone at some point and had this reaction.

With apologies to Pete Davison who loves this term, I'd like to weigh in on this thread with an observation about "awesomeness" in lieu of "talking up oneself" to get attention.

Every now and then I come across someone who just blows me away. These people tend to have some common traits regardless of whether they're from Australia the US or wherever. It's got nothing to do with how many exits they've had, their level of education, how their current job or business is going, or how much money they've got in the bank and everything about their attitude, focus, energy, and the way they treat others.

Typically these folks...

  • Tend to be really knowledgeable but don't try to "push sell" you on their list of achievements
  • Are interested in learning / discovering the truth, even if it means they have to change their own point of view
  • Are present in the conversation with you, they won't check their laptop / phone while with you
  • Are genuinely interested in understanding you and your needs, they will test and confirm that they understand your position a lot
  • Will propose / test ideas with you but always leave space to be challenged / allow themselves to be wrong
  • Will challenge your ideas by asking questions (they won't make you fell like you're an idiot, even if you've just said something silly)
  • Will generally stop talking if you interrupt them in mid-sentence
  • Will generally be helpful provided you are not obnoxious or rude to them
  • Will seek to build teams / alignment to achieve large results
  • Are very action oriented and results oriented: They Get. Stuff. Done.
  • Are passionate about how what they're doing helps others
  • Hold themselves and others to high standards of conduct
  • Are confident and calm in their own abilities, they don't need to make others feel small to pump themselves up
  • Show via interaction and polite questioning and don't tell you that they did something in a past life in order to let you know they are an expert
  • Do what they say they're going to do

Talking oneself up often feels unnatural and runs the risk of creating a perception of arrogance. There are plenty of people who don't get funded or get the sale simply because they're trying too hard and end up leave the potential investor / customer thinking "This guy/gal is really super smart or accomplished, but sheesh what an A**hole, they won't listen to any advice, no way I could work with them: too much work, not enough fun, life's too short" There are plenty of VCs who tell you they have passed on deals for this reason.

Shifting the focus on how to help others and the discovery of truths with high energy and a results-orientation can generate significant interest and deep respect: "This person clearly knows their stuff, and will do what it takes to achieve a great result.... even if it means they're told they're wrong. I could work with this person"

Every time I meet one of these people I am grateful and I seek them out going forward. They are a pleasure to be around. They're the kind of people I'd like as partners and to do business with. There are a reasonable number of people on the SiliconBeach list whom I'd hold up as examples of the above behaviors, hopefully they know who they are as I won't embarrass them by naming them or myself for missing someone out who is awesome.

False humility can make you look timid and uncommitted.

Talking up your own achievements can make you look arrogant and hard to work with.

Being awesome is the way to go and something to strive for:)

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