Why Founders Should Avoid Trying to Be a Know-It-All

If you have a teenager in the house, chances are they think they know everything. This can also happen with founders assuming they know everything about building a business. We asked Hugh Weber, a researcher, network theorist, storyteller, community organizer, design advocate and small town kid, who leads The Institute of Possibility as CEO & Curator, his advice for founders about growing a company

Biggest influencer in your life?

I’ve been truly fortunate to have a life filled with individuals worthy of hero status, but I think the person with the biggest influence on the past decade of my life and career is Ellen McGirt, Senior Editor at Fortune Magazine and the wisdom behind raceAhead.

I was a fan of Ellen’s writing at Fast Company for years before our paths crossed. There was something in the way that she created immediate intimacy with and captured the vulnerability of startup founders and entrepreneurs without fawning over them that made her work stand out and her abilities clearly world-class.

Often meeting someone and discovering their human foibles and flaws diminishes their perceived status. Meeting Ellen had the opposite effect for me. Her willingness to engage and embrace a small town kid from South Dakota confirmed the path ahead of me at a time where that clarity was desperately needed. She showed up for me and my work and it made all the difference.

But it is her recent transition to raceAhead that will have the greatest impact on my work. She has stepped into the best, fullest version of her own story and uses that as a pedestal to share the stories of others. And, in the process, I believe she’s changing the literal face of business. I wonder often what difference I might make if I had a sliver of her courage.

Best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

Be a “not knower.” This is a phrase that my dear friend and colleague, Joe Bartmann, uses to describe people who lead through asking powerful questions and listening to the meaningful answers. Entrepreneurs are led to believe that having all of the answers is the key to success. We are the people on stage or at the head of the board room table with sage advice and clear direction. I’ve come to believe that having the right questions — and being prepared to listen to the answers that result — is what differentiates an entrepreneur and a business.

Lessons learned?

At two different points in my career, I was fortunate to encounter individuals who I knew in an instant were truly game-changing talents. I jumped into those business relationships with virtually no consideration for the long-term viability of the partnerships. I had validated on passion and talent while completely overlooking the necessity of evaluating consistency and cohesiveness of shared purpose. This dissolution of those relationships is a great professional regret. If I had been more aware of the dissonance of purpose, I believe we would have enjoyed a long-term, independent collaboration that could have been transformational. Instead, we undermined both the professional and personal relationships, which was avoidable.

Any books you’d recommend to founders?

Read the book Connected by James Fowler. Work to understand how community and connection influence identity, behavior and collective action on a foundational level. If it resonates, drop me a note telling me how it applies to your business. If it doesn’t, let’s get on the phone so I can help you connect the dots.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

I think that success for me is best measured by ripples of relationships and action. I find little joy in accumulating wealth or employees, but I find immense satisfaction in the idea of being a catalyst for personal, organizational or community connection and celebration. If small towns and rural creatives experience a cultural shift toward a possibility filled narrative over the next thirty years, I’ll consider my work a success. And, if my funeral feels like a reunion of friends for those in attendance and results in a community project or a new business or a story well told, I’ll be cheering from the other side.

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Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC members generate billions of dollars in revenue and have created tens of thousands of jobs.
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