The Corporate Shrink

How to communicate confidence, and success, in a new company.

By Kerry J. Sulkowicz
Featured on FastCompany

We’re in a conundrum that so many early-stage companies face: No one will invest unless we have customers, but customers want to see that we have enough resources. This catch-22 has been going on for a year; we’ve even attempted to offer customers stock–to no avail. How do we communicate confidence in our venture? (issue 104, page 108)

Well, nothing breeds success like success – but that doesn’t exactly help, eh? Assuming you have a good product or service to sell – you do, right? – then it’s time to reevaluate your pitch in the cold, hard light of day.

First, consider the possibility that you’re sending mixed messages. Your questions suggest that your management team itself might lack confidence in the soundness of the venture. If so, that’s something you could be transmitting inadvertently to customers. Authenticity is hard to fake. Perhaps you need to fix something about your offering before you can make it sound more compelling.

Alternatively, you could be coming on too strong. That’s perfectly understandable; it can be a way of overcompensating for the very real uncertainty that surrounds an early-stage company. But if you aren’t acknowledging even a modicum of doubt, then potential buyers might sense an attempt to cover something up.

Worse yet, your team’s neediness could be fueling a vicious circle of fear and desperation. Customers and investors pick up subliminally on your edgy cues and back off–which sparks even greater internal panic. Stop the cycle before it wreaks more damage: Take a step back, see if any of these symptoms resonate, and take the necessary medicine.

My boss and I used to be on the same floor, allowing us to work very closely and bounce ideas off each other every day. He was promoted and moved to a new building five miles away. I got his old job, but I’m now his only direct report not located in his building. How do I maintain our relationship?

Congrats on your promotion! Now you need to come to terms with the prospect of getting by on your own. I suspect that’s part of the package. Yours isn’t an uncommon problem. You thrived in your previous working relationship, but your promotion means taking on more responsibility and mentoring subordinates the way your boss did you. Remember, it’s not the five miles that matter: Your role in the organization is more important than physical proximity in determining your level of interaction. And while his other direct reports may run into him more often, you have the benefit of greater independence.

Here’s the important psychological point: Success, in this case promotion, frequently brings with it some sort of loss–of secure relationships and of comfortable work demands. The sooner you reconcile the loss of the old, the more you’ll flourish in the new.

Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and founder of The Boswell Group LLC, advises executives on leadership, management, and governance. Send him your questions about the psychology of business (