Has America’s Obsession with Entrepreneurship Gone Too Far?

Whether based in reality or mythology, hero-worship has always had a place in society.  Noah may or may not have saved all of human and animal kind, and it’s unlikely that Hercules ever battled a snake-haired woman; but heroes make great stories, and many an immigrant stepped foot on American soil in search of the “promised land,” where people forge their own path and make their own future.  It’s the very fabric of the “American Dream.”

But when obsession and downright worship of entrepreneurial types become the aspiration, as well as excusing some truly awful behavior, have we taken that adoration in the wrong direction—made a dream into a nightmarish personality obsession?

Bosses Behaving Badly

We’ll leave it to the scientists to debate whether or not entrepreneurship is a genetic trait: the mere fact of such debate is evidence of cultural obsession.

That hero-worship may, in part, create a system of inflated egos, excusing bad behavior such as:

  • Self-reward and entitlement: After sitting at the helm while their own companies tanked, banks bailed out by American taxpayers still felt entitled to nearly $2 billion in bonuses (of tax payer money!). Some entrepreneurial types have a bad reputation of rewarding themselves above all others, out of a sense of entitlement.
  • Workplace difficulty: Uber isn’t the first company to be accused of creating an uncomfortable workplace culture, but it is one in recent headlines. An entrepreneur can set the tone for the company’s culture, which may not be a good thing, depending on that leader.
  • Inspiring fear: In companies as varied as the entertainment industry and tech, some top execs are known for leading by fear within their organizations. In a culture less obsessed with entrepreneurship, no one would work for someone with such an attitude as some of these leaders, and boards of directors would fire such CEO’s.  In our hero-worship nation, leading by fear often gets excused in executives.

Leading by Example

While entitlement and fear may be the primary tools in the toolbox of some entrepreneurs and executives, others choose to lead by example.

  • Cisco CEO John Chambers famously refused to reward himself above his employees, was named one of the “World’s Best CEOs” (Barron’s) and took his company from a value of $70 million to $47 billion, demonstrating effective leadership and kindness.
  • One of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, Warren Buffet, is committed to giving away more than 99% of his fortune to charity.

These and countless other examples illustrate that success and kindness are not mutually exclusive: forward-thinking entrepreneurs see the value in both kindness and cooperation, while not compromising on vision.  Each year, lists of “best companies to work for” get published, and the common denominator generally has to do with great bosses, generous benefits, and a corporate culture of fun and equity, coupled with hard work and mission-dedication.

Refusing to hold oneself to a different standard than others is the hallmark of kind leadership.  Boorishness is easy.  The most effective entrepreneurs inspire their team to work toward a common vision, one filled with equity and success for everyone who is on board.

If you are the entrepreneurial type, you can examine your own behavior and tendencies, eradicate your own negative behavior, and choose to emulate those who lead by example.

Besides, it’s less lonely at the top for those who bring others along on the journey of success.

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