Are Today’s Young Entrepreneurs Kinder & Gentler Than Their Forebearers?

Posted by: Steven Berglas on September 15

Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains. Winston Churchill

For some reason, many readers who are interested in my blog contact me “off-line.” One such reader was intrigued with my analysis of the character structure of serial entrepreneurs and called me to raise the following concern:

Do you think the new crop of Web 2.0 entrepreneurs –like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Chris DeWolfe of MySpace, and Google’s founders Brin & Page— will exhibit the same personality traits as established entrepreneurs? It seems to me that the kids are representative of a kinder & gentler generation of business-builders. Do you agree?

The caller’s question was a good one, and at first blush I did concur: There is no doubt that “kids” today have tons of “heart” relative to Gray Beards like Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs (who both actually sport gray beards). Both Ellison and Jobs are renown (and feared) in Silicon Valley for their hyper aggressive approach to business and the sometimes ruthless manner they conduct themselves with employees, partners and rivals. Somehow, what I have read about the “Do No Evil” Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin convinces me that their interpersonal orientation is in no way comparable to Ellison’s or Jobs’.

The problem, however, is that Page & Brin are young and, as Churchill noted, they’re supposed to have heart. The question begged by Churchill’s contention (which I agree with) is, “When young business builders age will they also acquire the traits attributed to Ellison & Jobs?”

The answer, as I see it is, regrettably, yes, if as they age they remain successful. This view comes from decades of researching and writing about the effects of professional success on an individual’s personality. In contrast to long-held views, state-of-the-art research demonstrates that personality is malleable, and not fixed in stone. Unfortunately, only in the rarest of circumstances do men who began life with little (in terms of material wealth), acquire generous or magnanimous tendencies after they succeed. Instead, achieving professional success almost always impedes a person’s capacity to develop and/or sustain intimate interpersonal ties. There are dozens of reasons why this occurs, but space limitations permit me to address only one: The “logic” of becoming mistrustful of, and abusive toward, others after you succeed.

Xenophobia Born Of Success. People are typically incapable of achieving success without greater-than-average charisma and EQ (Emotional Intelligence). If a young entrepreneur lacks social skills and charm, he will never receive the mentoring and support (both financial and professional) needed to advance.

With rare exception, when a person reaches the top rungs of the career ladder, success goes to his head. It is impossible to be a billionaire (like Messrs. Zuckerberg, DeWolfe, Brin and Paige) and not feel extraordinarily special or, at minimum, a breed apart, given how the world reacts to you. Actually, since the dawn of psychoanalytic psychiatry practitioners have observed that a previously “normal” person would acquire aspects of a “narcissistic personality” if he was idolized by others. My clinical and coaching practices support this observation: I have regularly worked with “formerly nice guys” who acquired arrogant personalities after they were put on pedestals. This problematic transformation is almost axiomatic: The more kudos you receive for achieving success, the more you will distrust –and be abusive toward—others.

I believe that Churchill would agree. If you are successful and an acquaintance says, “Hey… want to grab a beer?” your first thought is, “Is he befriending me because of who I am (as a person) or what I am (as a “success” with access to valuable resources)?” On the other hand, this question never enters the mind of a young business builder “on the way up” since, for him, networking is key to success.

Extending this argument further, I would bet that the Steve Jobs who partnered with Steve Wozniak was kinder & gentler than the one walking the halls of Apple today. I cannot swear that Mr. Jobs isn’t, by dint of innate temperament and character, more cruel than most. That said, I am certain that Steve Jobs must –lest he forfeit all claims on sanity— be more wary of others than the average IT professional solely because his phenomenal success makes him a target for users. Jobs’ dilemma –“Are they authentic or exploitative?”— inevitably toughens a person’s persona and makes him appear cruel when, in fact, he may simply be acting in a self-protective manner.

I hope, loyal caller, this answers your question.

Reader Comments

Christopher Haydock

September 24, 2008 04:36 PM

If we value "kinder & gentler" workplaces, then it is all of our work to realize our intentions and bring such work places into being. Here's a favorite quote of mine from Peter Block in his 2003 book "The answer to how is yes: Acting on what matters."

"Nelson Mandela, the recipient of worldwide admiration, has stated that the moment you treat a man as if he is a god, you have invited the devil into existence. The devil, in this instance, is not the behavior of the boss or politician; the devil is the denial of our own power and the expectation that someone else will lead us to a better tomorrow."

Corey

September 23, 2008 09:28 PM

You make some very interesting points. I believe that money and pride is a dangerous combination. No matter how you build your wealth nothing is secure. Our education and resources is not enough to secure us from falling. I believe humility should be a part of any success building. We have to understand that we all are unique and have a unique purpose. Looking down on someone else because of their world status is prideful. We need to understand our position in life and use that position to help empower other people lives. Visit my blog @ www.doingbusinessgodsway.blogspot.com

Patrick Rafter

September 23, 2008 06:50 PM

It's been suggested that Gates learned to become a benefactor from Melissa (and his friend Warren Buffet.. an older, gentler entrepreneur).

Nice piece
--Patrick Rafter

p.s. The wonderful quote at the beginning is often mistakenly attributed to Churchill.

Earlier varients of this comment were made by 2 Frenchmen:

Goriot-- a monarchist during the reign of Louis-Phillippe, or
Clemenceau-- French Prime Minister whom would likely have met as the Versailles treaty was drafted:

The original quotes:

"Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart;
to be one at thirty is proof of want of head."
-Francois Guisot (1787-1874)

"Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart;
to be one at thirty is proof of want of head."
Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929)

http://lalaland.cl.msu.edu/~vanhoose/quotes/0018.html

Wally Bock

September 17, 2008 05:09 PM

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/09/17/91708-a-midweek-look-at-the-business-blogs.aspx

Wally Bock

Andrew

September 17, 2008 10:58 AM

I think your penultimate sentence nails it: the cruelty seen is born of self-protection against the potentially exploitive. (Although I believe that success generated narcissism is certainly a factor.)

The reason I say this, and believe any cruelty to be largely situational, is the evidence of generous and thoughtful behaviour: no-one would call Bill Gates's charity work cruel.

VK

September 17, 2008 12:57 AM

So true. True in all kinds of pursuits, entrepreneurial or otherwise.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.

 

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Staying Entrepreneurial contributors

Renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, serial entrepreneur Jeff Bussgang, a partner at Flybridge Capital in Boston, and Dr. Steven Berglas, executive coach, management consultant, and expert on "the stress of success," share their tips for staying entrepreneurial in trying times.

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