Ignorance or Arrogance? How Good Leaders Handle Uncertainty Uncertainty in entrepreneurship is a given, but you don't have to respond with ignorance or arrogance.

By Clate Mask

Key Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurs are often exposed to unsolicited noise, and you need to protect yourself from all the chatter when it's coming from people with insights you don't want or need.
  • Ignorance will steer you astray, and arrogance will alienate you from others who could offer valuable perspectives.
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In the world of entrepreneurship, uncertainty is a constant. Even when business owners know what they want to do and where they want to go, a lot is outside their control. As such, they often unintentionally lean one of two ways: toward ignorance or arrogance. Unfortunately, both can be disastrous. In my 20+ years as an entrepreneur, I've learned the sweet spot is in the middle — and just how imperative it is to strike that balance. Here's why and how.

The trap of ignorance

When a business owner is riding the waves of uncertainty in their company, they're often pelted with advice from all sides. The entrepreneurs who fall prey to ignorance are those who allow themselves to be directed by others without taking the time to think whether the input they're receiving is sound or beneficial.

For example, your well-meaning uncle might tell you you need to hire a salesperson well before it's a good time to do so. You go for it to please people and avoid having to invest the time and energy to figure out how and when you should hire for key roles like this.

But your product has problems that haven't been fixed, and the salesperson's salary is more than you intended to spend. A premature hire like this could create many problems, and it all started because you let yourself get tossed around by other people's opinions. In other words, you acted out of ignorance.

Related: Want to Become a Successful Entrepreneur? Don't Ask for Other People's Opinions.

The poison of arrogance

At the other end of the spectrum, of course, is arrogance. This happens when you're flooded by uncertainty and advice, but you shut everyone out. Your response to anyone's perspective is to say no, implying they don't know what they're talking about and that you do.

Arrogance can sneak up on you. One day, you're feeling insecure about leading your company, and the next day, you get a little traction and start feeling like you have it all figured out and don't need anyone else's suggestions.

For example, maybe you and your direct reports disagreed about a marketing strategy, but you dug your heels in and launched it anyway. It was a massive success, so you ingested an "I know best" attitude that began seeping into everything else you're working on.

Related: Leave Your Ego At The Door And Find The Path To Growth

Operating in confidence

Ignorance will steer you astray, and arrogance will alienate you from others who could offer valuable perspectives. So, how do you find the balance between the two? And what does that look like on a practical level? The key to success is to operate confidently, listening to those you respect while recognizing the value of your knowledge and intuition. Here's how I've learned to do this throughout my own career.

1. Filter the noise

First, be selective about whose voices you are willing to listen to. The uncle mentioned above who insisted you need a salesperson too early is probably not someone with great entrepreneurial credentials, or he would have realized you weren't yet at the stage for that. In such a situation, it's perfectly acceptable to thank the person for their input and move on.

Consider the people you respect who have proven their business acumen or provided value to you in your entrepreneurial journey in another way. This should become the small circle of people whose advice you entertain.

It could include your spouse, who knows your goals and offers unflinching support; your best friend, who has sold three businesses and always has helpful guidance; or your co-founder, who has worked alongside you to grow your business to what it is. When one of these individuals has a concern or idea, plan to listen. It doesn't mean you have to do exactly what they say, but it does mean they're worth hearing out.

When someone outside this circle starts to deliver advice, plan to courteously shut the conversation down. Entrepreneurs are often exposed to unsolicited noise, and you need to protect yourself from all the chatter when it's coming from people with insights you don't want or need.

Related: 3 Keys to Leading Teams During a Time of Divisive Opinions and Tension

2. Steer toward your strategy

A company strategy is key because it's your compass as you navigate uncertainty. Being clear about your strategy doesn't mean you're stuck in one direction; you should always adjust as you learn and grow. However, having clarity and intention around your strategic direction will anchor you and keep you grounded as you strive to make decisions that are aligned with your company's mission.

3. Involve the right people

In addition to the small circle of people you trust and are willing to listen to, two additional types of relationships can help you operate in confidence. The first is a business coach who not only has business expertise but doesn't have a vested interest in your company and can speak to you honestly. The second includes the connections you make in the entrepreneurial community. Forming friendships with others who are walking in your shoes can have an ongoing positive impact on your business and entrepreneurial journey.

Uncertainty in entrepreneurship is a given, but you don't have to respond with ignorance or arrogance. Instead, you can choose to keep your circle of influence small, put strategy at the core of all you do and connect with a business coach and others in the entrepreneurial community. This is the best way to operate in confidence and succeed.

Clate Mask

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO

Clate Mask is the founder and CEO of Keap, a maker of sales and marketing automation software for small businesses. He also is co-author of "Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy."

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