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Should Women Be More Arrogant?

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There has been a lot of ink lately on "Who Will Be the Next Steve Jobs?" from an article in the Wall Street Journal to a myriad of other op-eds and blog posts. It's part of a larger discussion on why there aren't more women starting high-growth companies or in leadership positions across the board.

It's a good discussion. But that's not what I'm writing about today. Today I'm talking about hiring. The qualities The Wall Street Journal suggests are necessary for a person who could fill Steve Jobs shoes include "unbridled confidence" and some degree of arrogance and narcissism -- traits that don't fit comfortably into even the most confident corporate heels ... or at least not that we are willing to admit to or talk about. Maybe we should. Swathy Prithivi (Head of Corporate Development, Sonim Technologies) makes the point in a post on Women 2.0 that "unbridled confidence is critical for someone who even has a passing interest in entrepreneurship" and that for young women, a little arrogance can't hurt:

If my start-up is a microcosm of the larger entrepreneurship universe, that tells me that I need to wholly believe in my venture for it to go anywhere. And to do that I need to have 'unbridled confidence & arrogance'. For what is a bet in an early stage company than a bet on the founders? Starting a company and pushing forward against the monumental odds stacked against you is basically a bet on yourself -- do you truly believe that you can do the crazy things needed to make a start-up work?

This hit home as I recently was writing up some notes from a discussion with a group of female entrepreneurs on the importance of hiring. One women who has run her own global business for over 15 years shared the insight that "It's not what you do that makes for success, it's who you hire." Problem is, she says, we often don't learn the skill set we need to hire talent:

The most important thing for any business is building the right team. It's not what you do that makes for good management its who you hire. Hiring itself is a skill set. The first thing you need to do is create your mission. There is a mission for this job. What you want this person to accomplish? The reason we fail in hiring the right people is because we don't write a good job description first. Never post a job until you really interrogate what it is you are looking for.

I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't like to include "unbridled confidence" not only in the mission for who they hire but also for what they would like to bring to the party. Job one of building an amazing team is hiring ourselves. We need to define the skills we need to develop ourselves to "step up to the table" as Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook advocates in her TED Talk on why we have so few women leaders.

Do we need to add arrogance and narcissism to our mission? Or are arrogance and narcissism, if looked at another way, really just the positive outlook that helps you overlook obstacles and believe in yourself?

This is what Claire Mazur, the 20-something co-founder of Of a Kind had to say in an interview with 40:20 Vision earlier this year on "What it takes to be an entrepreneur":

You have to have the attitude that you get what you want. You have to know what you want and be confident that you will figure out how to get what you want. There will be a million obstacles in your way but you have to just not see them.

Maybe that is a version of narcissism,"extreme self love" as it is defined, that makes you believe you can get what you want.

Similarly, earlier this year I heard Audrey McClean, founder of Network Equipment Technologies (NET) and Adaptive and an Associate Professor at Stanford, speak at an NCWIT event honoring women in technology on what makes her tick as an entrepreneur:

To be an entrepreneur you need to be able to see things the way they could be vs. the way they are and you have to believe that if you can see it, you can make it happen. Then you have to inspire others to want to do it with you...because it always takes a team. I'm happiest when collaborating to materialize real results and I never give up."

I loved that quote. It's about being confident enough in yourself and your vision that you can convince others of it's power. Is that "arrogance"? To believe you can see what others can't? Or is it extreme positivity and passion?

Back to hiring others. For some reason as I was writing the other week, I decided to look at what Steve Jobs had to say about hiring for some inspiration. Eerily it was the day before he died. This is what I found.

"My job is to not be easy on people. My job is to make them better".

"Recruiting is hard. It's just finding the needles in the haystack. You can't know enough in a one-hour interview. ? So, in the end, it's ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they're challenged? I ask everybody that: 'Why are you here?"

"When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself.? They'll want to do what's best for Apple, not what's best for them, what's best for Steve, or anybody else.

I mean, some people say, 'Oh, God, if [Jobs] got run over by a bus, Apple would be in trouble.' And, you know, I think it wouldn't be a party, but there are really capable people at Apple.? My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that's what I try to do.

Doesn't sound so arrogant after all. It's about passion and positivity, yes, and the selflessness to believe that someone can do your job better than you do. Or go ahead, call it arrogance and narcissism.

This article was originally posted on my blog, 40:20 Vision, on October 13, 2011.