Are You Stupid or Are You Weak?

Startups are full of questions with no obvious answers.

Startups are hard.

Faced with three problems, you are lucky if you can solve two of them.  

What makes it even trickier is that the process of solving the first two, often makes the third one worse.

That’s why it’s important to recognize when you’ve entered one of those endless loops where there IS no perfect solution. Where fixing the first two problems ends up breaking the third. Or fixing the third breaks the first.  

Since we are taught in school that there is a right answer for everything, it’s easy to struggle to loosen this Gordian knot; to get paralyzed by the fact that you can’t find the right answer; to do nothing. 

But once you accept that there is no good answer, it can be tremendously liberating. Now you can stop looking for the perfect solution, and begin a search for an acceptable imperfect one.

That’s the smart part.

But once you’ve come up with that imperfect solution? Well, that’s when things get hard.  Because even though you know it won’t solve all of your problems (and, in fact, will probably make some of them worse) you have to do it anyway.

And that’s the strong part.

These problems are particularly thorny when they involve people. Promoting a star might mean losing your second-strongest player. Removing an obviously weak member of your team means either going without or upping the workload of someone else. In either case, you’re probably faced with a long difficult search to replace them. And in the meantime, there will be errors and missed opportunities.

So it may feel easier to simply ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

But as It turns out, not making a decision is the worst decision of all.  

By not choosing who to promote, you demotivate all your candidates.  By not moving quickly to remove a poor performer, you hobble your ability to move fast and avoid errors.  

But the worst outcome of all, is that by not taking action you leave your team with a difficult choice: Are you stupid – because you don’t see there is a problem?  Or are you weak – because you see the problem but don’t have the strength and courage to do something about it?

It’s the tricky thing about leadership. Everyone’s watching.  


Many ideas in this post were first discussed in the Neverland entrepreneurial community. Join us there!

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