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4 Signs You Have a Superman Complex

A healthy dose of confidence is one thing. But assuming you're too good to fail? That's like saying you're made of steel.
Henry Cavill, as Superman
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You may be among the millions who've enjoyed the new movie Man of Steel. That's great, but if you run a small business it should come with a warning: Don't give in to the temptation to act like Superman yourself.

"Living in Silicon Valley, I have seen it many a time," says Prasad Kaipa, executive coach and author of the new book From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading With Wisdom. "So many entrepreneurs get into the trap of thinking they're above it all like Superman. In the process they wind up destroying their own companies and families."

Don't let this happen to you. Watch out for these four beliefs that may mean you're a leader with a Superman complex:

1. Your company can't fail.

You may not expect bullets to bounce off your chest, but if you're sure that market forces won't ever take your company down, you're still living in a dream world. "Entrepreneurs do need to have a large amount of self-confidence," Kaipa says. "They need to feel they're special and able to do things others cannot, so they may need to feel they have Superman-like capabilities in order to start something and compete with larger companies."

But that strength can quickly turn into a weakness, he says. "When entrepreneurs start a company, they may have a unique solution or a signature strength others don't have. But as soon as you start the company, you need to recognize that now the idea is out, others could do it better or faster and kill your company. So if you feel that because your idea is great and you got a large amount of money from a VC, you're invulnerable, you're quickly going to lose everything." Most start-ups fail, he notes--even ones with hefty VC backing.

2. Everyone around you is a mere mortal.

Kaipa, who spent years at Apple and (Steve Jobs' second company) Next, says not thinking this way was one of Jobs' great strengths. Yes--he clearly thought he was super-human--but he didn't think he was alone in his Fortress of Solitude. "He looked at everyone else as either having super capabilities or not," Kaipa says. "If they didn't have the super capabilities he was looking for they were out of the company very quickly."

Thus, Kaipa says, "He had a super vision, but the execution was done by others with enormous capabilities beyond mere mortals. It was more like the Avengers."

3. Rules don't apply to you.

Superman may not have to bother with things like gravity, but as a business leader you need to follow the rules, particularly the ones you want employees to respect. "I've seen several start-ups where the founder says, 'Do what I say, not what I do,'" Kaipa says. "But in a start-up environment, they watch you more carefully, especially since you may not be offering a big salary. To increase morale, it's important to practice what you preach and inspire people by being a role model."

4. You should have a fan club.

"Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... the boss!" If you expect this kind of adulation, it's time to stop reading your own publicity, Kaipa says. You may be the idea generator or the evangelist for your company, but "Behind all those roles is a human being who has as many weaknesses as strengths."

Kaipa says he's seen too many entrepreneurs who believe in their own greatness either fail or achieve only mediocrity. They forget that a successful company is the product of combined superhuman effort. "Success happens due to many factors and many people," he says. "Your job is to develop everybody else into Supermen, to nurture them to be as good as you, if not better."

IMAGE: Clay Enos/©Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Last updated: Jul 3, 2013

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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