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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.
The second book in the Startup Revolution series, Startup Life: Surviving And Thriving In A Relationship With An Entrepreneur, is shipping in the next week or so. My wife Amy Batchelor and I wrote this one, with contributions from about 20 other entrepreneurial couples.
Amy and I have been friends since we met in college in 1984. We have been together as a couple since 1990. We got married in 1993. Our marriage almost ended in 2000. Today, I am ecstatic in my relationship with Amy. We’ve worked hard over the past 11 years to figure things out, get it right, and build a long-term, sustainable relationship.
Startup Life explores the unique challenges that exist in the context of a relationship with an entrepreneur. Like my other books, there’s a lot of personal stuff in it – in this case, from both of us. We include lots of stories and wisdom from our entrepreneurial friends, especially in areas where we have no experience, like that of having – and dealing with – children in the relationship.
Amy and I have been talking about writing this book since 2007. It was an awesome experience to write it together – all of the expected collaboration dynamics appeared. For example, when we started, I wanted to simply split up tasks and write chunks separately; Amy wanted to collaborate on every word. After a laugh together about the clicheish male / female gender stuff at work here, we quickly figured out how to make progress together.
Of all the books I’ve written, I’m most proud of this one. We dug deep into our own life, experiences, and personalities. We bared our souls a lot. We’ve got a lot to learn still about relationships, but we feel like we covered a lot of ground in this book.
Several early readers have told us this is a great broad relationship book that applies to any couple. While we hope that is the case, we especially focused on the special stresses that we’ve experienced in an entrepreneurial life. Either way, we hope there’s a lot here that can be helpful.
If the topic appeals to you, pre-order a copy of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship today. Engage with articles you find interesting about this topic on the Startup Revolution Hub. And look for a lot more on the Startup Life blog in the coming weeks.