Founders: Less hero more humble, please

A couple months back I was in the car with Mike, on our way to grab a Five Guys and chat business. On the way, we were chatting about what we were working on and where we were going (both food wise and business wise) and something occurred to me.

There are some people in the startup world that I genuinely admire, not simply because of their position or abilities, but because of how they handle themselves and treat those around them.

These are the sorts that have had success and are able to brag about it, but choose not to.

The sorts that pay genuine care and attention when someone’s talking to them, whether it’s a CEO of the latest unicorn or an average Joe who’s never launched a thing.

The sorts that big up their team, when it would be easy to big up themselves.

The sorts that don’t have an answer for every question, and don’t try to.

The sorts that are passionate about what they do, that work hard and give their all.

The sorts that, despite all this, still seem to live (relatively) well rounded lives.

For me, when I look at a leader I would like to emulate, someone who’s further down the path I want to walk, character is key.

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” — John Wooden

So many people look up to founders and CEO’s like they can do no wrong, like they’re some kind of superhuman demi-god that has access to a pool of riches that we could only dream of.

I have news for you. They’re not. They’re human.

Often it’s the charismatic leaders who grab the headlines. Be it Steve Jobs, Gary Vaynerchuk or Richard Branson. These are great leaders who have done great things, but not every leader is charismatic, and not every leader needs to be.

Charisma will always attract a following, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Charisma may get you to the top but charisma alone won’t keep you there. Ultimately charisma, despite being a useful tool in the arsenal, is not the key characteristic for an aspiring leader, as helpful as it is.

For me, one of the most important characteristics I look for in those I look up to is humility.

Humility is often misunderstood. People see humility and mistake it for being weak or fragile. That’s not humility at all, in fact it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Sure humility can be vulnerable. It acknowledges it’s weaknesses, but it never dwells on them.

Humility is honest, it’s not inflated or played up. It looks at reality as it is, and squares up to the challenges face on.

For me, it’s the simple choice to lower yourself and serve others rather than elevate and look to be served.

Let’s get real

There’s a growing movement of transparency, of opening up and being real with people. That doesn’t mean airing your dirty laundry in public, but being willing to share more. To open up more. To be real.

And you know what? People relate to it. They relate to it because it’s human. And humility is the same. That’s because leadership is human. How can we expect anyone to truly follow a super human leader?

So for me, I got thinking about who I respect and look up to in the startup world, who I’d love to grab a coffee with and learn from. The list is a work in progress, but here’s a shout out to Ryan Hoover, Shaan Puri, Joel Gascoigne and Josh Pigford. If you guys are ever in London and looking for a great burger/beer/coffee let me know, it’s on me.

Thanks for being human.


So what do you think? What do you look for in founders you look up to? Are there any founders you look up to? If so, what is it about them that makes you look up to them?

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