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How Much Confidence Is Too Much?

Being sure of yourself is nice, but thinking that nobody knows better is a mistake.
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Being right feels awesome. There's nothing quite like discovering that you had an idea or made a decision that didn't just work--it rocked. But while ending up in the right is lovely, stubbornly refusing to give up on being right is not good for business. Just ask Jeff Booth, president and CEO of BuildDirect, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based retailer of flooring and other building materials. He's been there.

Booth and business partner Robert Banks launched BuildDirect at just the right time. It was 1999; the dot-com boom was on and home sales were on the upswing--big time. They built solid relationships with suppliers, skipping the middleman and passing savings on to consumers. The company took off quickly, growing from a kitchen-table operation to an international success.

But nine years in, confidence got the best of them--and that's when the problems began. "When you're right and have crazy success with that right, you can become jaded--and quickly," Booth says.

After nearly a decade of can't-do-wrong, the real-estate market turned. Booth and Banks, however, kept going in the same direction. They ignored the market. They ignored their team. After all, they'd been right for nine years. And their business tanked--spectacularly.

It woke them up. "In a situation like this, it would have been easy to blame outside forces for what was happening to our business," Booth says. "Rather than laying blame elsewhere, we decided to look inward, to analyze what we had done to contribute to the situation and to figure out what we needed to do to make our way through it.

"We quickly realized that our need and attachment to being right was our biggest problem. We'd focused on the wrong thing," Booth says. "We finally saw that making the best decisions for the company, its customers and our team should be our No. 1 goal."

So how did BuildDirect come back from the brink? Booth says the key to reversing the "I'm right" trap is to widen your circle of trusted advisors.

Two founders was too small of a feedback group. Booth and Banks brought their entire management team into the loop, encouraging them to ask hard questions and offer honest answers. This led to a less biased decision-making process and better alignment of the team. Just as important: They began avoiding the head-nodders. Sycophants don't help you run your business; they just boost your ego. Smart entrepreneurs embrace the value of debate and diverse opinions.

So do you want to be right, or do you want to make the best decisions for your company? The upside to the latter is that many times, those decisions will prove you right in the long run--not a bad deal.