Leadership Lesson: When to Take Advice

Mark Zuckerberg has caught a lot of flak for his hoodie recently. After he was seen wearing his trademark piece of clothing to investor meetings as part of Facebook’s pre-IPO roadshow, and at least one Wall Streeter called it a “mark of immaturity.”

But whether or not you think Zuckerberg’s attire is important, it illustrates his refusal to succumb to outsider pressure. Despite numerous rounds of funding, Zuckerberg maintains more than half of Facebook’s shares. Recently, he used this power to buy Instagram without consulting his board.

Some people may find him to be stubborn, but his success is hard to argue with.

Determination or Defiance?

This kind of unshakable determination is a trait all entrepreneurs share. When an entrepreneur comes up with a great idea, he or she doesn’t let anyone skew the vision or challenge its execution.

But when taken too far, being defiant and ignoring people’s thoughtful opinions can prove devastating to a business and its owner. What separates the great entrepreneurs from the merely good ones is the ability to let information in.

I’m 49. When I started my first business I was 23. I believe as strongly in myself now as I did then. And along the way, I’ve learned that the great entrepreneurs are kind of dogmatic. But I’ve also seen a lot of entrepreneurs lose their companies because they were too egotistical and didn’t listen to sound advice.

Steve Jobs was more hardheaded than anyone, and it helped him develop some of the greatest technology in world history. He ruled Apple with an iron fist, and it worked.

But he also shirked the advice of doctors who told him to undergo surgery when his cancer was first detected. By the time he came around to the idea, the cancer had spread so much that it was inoperable.

Where to Draw the Line

There is a line between a healthy and detrimental amount of single-minded resolve. Where that line is, I’m not sure. That is likely different for everyone.

But here’s a good test: Would you make a good employee at another company? Or would people think you were too difficult to work with?

Single-mindedness is the mark of an entrepreneur. We are, by nature, self-starters that go against the grain. We are tough, and that’s what makes us great. But taken to its extreme, it can be self-destructive.

Good entrepreneurs develop their ideas alone. Great ones allow other people to contribute. –As told to John McDermott