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We are told that leaders must be strong. They must be confident. They must be unflinching. They must hide their fear. They must never blink. They cannot be soft in any way.
Last night, after my first public talk on the new book that Amy and I just released titled Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, a woman came up to me afterwards and gave me two pieces of feedback. The first was that I expressed incredible vulnerability in my talk. She thanked me for that. She then suggested that I hadn’t done a good job of weaving the notion of vulnerability into the importance of the dynamics of the relationship that Amy and I have.
She was absolutely correct on both fronts. Amy and I allow ourselves to be very vulnerable with each other. We aren’t afraid of each other and – by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable – we are more direct, honest, and clear about what is on our minds. It works both ways – we are more able to hear the other person, and more able to offer feedback in a constructive way, because we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
But it doesn’t stop there. I’m allow myself to be very vulnerable with my partners Seth, Jason, and Ryan. And they allow themselves to be vulnerable with me and each other. We embrace the notion of “brutal honesty” with each other – we say things as we see them, as we believe them, and as directly as we can to each other – while at the same time recognizing that the other person is open to any feedback, in any tone, in any way. Notably, we are each vulnerable to each other, which makes our communication much more powerful and effective.
I try to be bidirectionally vulnerable with every entrepreneur I work with. I try my hardest, but when I hurt someone, I want to hear why. When I let someone down, I want to hear why. When I am struggling, I talk openly about it. When I’ve failed, I listen to why. And I hope that every entrepreneur I work with feels the same way, or whatever their version of “being vulnerable” is.
I’m vulnerable to the broader community I engage with. I’m open about my struggles – personally and professionally. I’m not bashful about being wrong, and owning it. And, when I get feedback, my ears are always open. Sure, I get plenty of random criticism from nameless, faceless people. That used to annoy me – now I just put them in the bucked of “anonymous coward” and delete it from my brain. If they can offer me the feedback directly, in their own voice, with their own identity, I’m open to it. I’ll let myself be vulnerable in that context. But I draw the line at random, anonymous attacks, especially ad hominem ones.
The great leaders I know are vulnerable. Maybe not to everyone, maybe not all the time, and maybe not in all contexts. But the allow themselves to be, simply, themselves. Human. They allow others in. They know they can be wrong. They know they can fail. And they know they can improve. Vulnerable.
That’s part of being a great leader. And a great partner – business or personal. And it opens you up to be a greater human. Thanks to the person who reminded me of that last night.
I’m going to be doing the first public Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur talk tonight at Riverside at 7pm. If you don’t know Riverside, it’s a new co-working, event, and cafe space on 1724 Broadway in Boulder. It’s a beautiful old building that’s been a fixture in Boulder for a very long time. There’s a nice article about what Christian Macy and Richard Moser are working on with Riverside in the Boulder iJournal.
If you want to attend tonights event, please sign up. I’ll be there with a bunch of copies of Startup Life that I’ll be selling thanks to the magic of Square, my green pen to sign books, and to talk and hang out.
And, as the Startup Life marketing machine kicks into gear, don’t forget to enter Operation Win A Dinner with Us. It’s going on through Saturday, 2/2/13 at 11:59pm EDT.
My newest book, Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, that I wrote with my wife Amy Batchelor, is shipping. As a result, I’m activating Operation Win A Dinner With Us today.
Between now and Saturday (2/2/13), if you order a copy of Startup Life, you will be entered into a random drawing. I’m going to pick two random winners – one for orders from Amazon and one for orders from BarnesandNoble.com.
All you have to do to be entered is email me the electronic receipt by 11:59pm EDT on Saturday night (2/2/13). I will announce the winners on Monday morning.
The winners will get dinner with me and Amy somewhere in the world in 2013. Dinner will be our treat – it’ll be for you and your significant other. And I promise we’ll choose a nice place of our mutual liking somewhere that is convenient for all of us.
If you play, make sure you also Like the book (if you order on Amazon), tweet out or Facebook the purchase, or do whatever other social media thing lights your fire.
If you want to see an example of the result from my version of this contest for Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, take a look at the post When You Know It’s Impossible, Do It Anyway….Or Win A Contest. And find out about Chris’ Random Acts of Entrepreneurship.
Amy and I talk a lot about big issues, such as depression and divorce, in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. I’ve been speaking from experience on each of these topics, as I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my entire adult life (the official DSM-IV code I have for my diagnosis from 1991 is 300.3 – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and, in 1990, I was divorced from my first wife.
I’ve always been open about these two issues (and experiences) since they’ve had a profound impact on me. I’ve learned how to manage my OCD and, even when I’m depressed, I’m very functional (if you didn’t know I was having a depressive episode, you’d think I was just flat or having an off day.) And many of the things that Amy and I do right in our relationship are lessons that we learned when reflecting on why my first marriage, and marriages of friends of ours – many of which are entrepreneurial couples – have failed.
As I’ve been doing interviews and talking about Startup Life, I’ve been asked several times whether or not entrepreneurs are more prone to depression and divorce. While I have zero empirical data, I believe from my qualitative experience that they are no less prone to this than the rest of the population. But I don’t really have empirical data to support this assertion either.
So – I’m looking for real data. Do any of you out there know of real quantitative studies – preferably academic / social science oriented, that investigate the question of whether or not entrepreneurs are more prone to depression? Or, a separate study that investigates the question of whether or not entrepreneurs are more prone to divorce?
If you know of one, email me or leave it in the comments.
If you are reading this on Friday, 1/18/13 I’m probably doing one of a couple of things right now. The three most likely are sleeping, laying on my couch reading next to Amy, or just hanging out with her. There’s a chance I’m on a run or having some adult entertainment with Amy (different than hanging out). Or drinking something from my Vitamix monster smoothie maker. And – if it’s in the evening, I’m probably watching a movie with Amy.
One of the things Amy and I discuss in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur are strategies we use as a couple to reconnect and reset on a regular basis. Since Monday 1/7, we haven’t been together very much. I spent last weekend with Amy at our Keystone house (where she’s been since mid December) but I spent 10 hours on Saturday and 10 hours on Sunday in front of my computer while she watched football, read, and took care of me. We had nice dinners together, but not much time to really connect. We’ve been Facetiming multiple times a day, but these are generally short hit connections.
On Tuesday morning, she asked me how I was doing. She could hear fatigue in my voice. I wasn’t in a bad place, just really tired and feeling off balance from how quickly 2013 started. Since I hadn’t really had a weekend, I hadn’t had a material shift in my weekly cadence, which works for a little while for me, but isn’t sustainable. And I mostly just missed hanging out with her.
I’ve got a lot to do this weekend as well and have the special bonus of a Monday holiday. So – instead of working all day Friday, trying to squeeze in some rest and relaxation in between the stuff on my plate to work though this weekend, I’m taking a day of the grid today (through the magic of time travel – and computers – this was written on Thursday morning) to do a full reset on my brain.
I regularly hear people tell me how amazing the idea of our “quarterly week off the grid” is. They then tell me there’s no way they could do a week each quarter – they don’t have enough vacation, kids get in the way, they can’t imagine a full week disconnected. So – I suggest they do a day instead. Like I am today.