A reality distortion field is a term used to describe the ability of leaders to convince their employees to become passionately committed to projects without regard to their overall difficulty or to competitive forces in the market. For startup community leaders simply insert the word “community members” for employees.

The term is typically applied to Steve Jobs and his ability to use charm, persistence, courage, and insight to get people to believe in something that they may not naturally believe.

Where some see leadership, others see manipulation.

Where some see the results, others see cult-like behavior.

Where some see a guru, others see that the emperor has no clothes.

Is employing the spirit and/or techniques of a reality distortion field a requirement for leaders in a nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem? 

In other words, do you have to fake it until you make it (like many software founders do)? I think the answer lies in between the black & white.

Over the top cheerleading without a sincere and public acknowledgement of your challenges for your community seems to turn off the very people you want to inspire and support – the best future entrepreneurs. You see, these people have a very good BS meter. They will not fall into the reality distortion field trap very easily. 

At the same time confidence creates a flywheel effect that can be used for many purposes:

  • Inspiring new founders (always have to be building a founder pipeline)
  • Securing new investment capital for the region and its founders, and
  • Recruiting new executive talent to the region.

It’s a difficult task to thread this needle perfectly so my advice is simple – make sure you are aware of the extremes and find your sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

This is never more so than for the leaders (Executive Directors, CEO’s) of entrepreneurial service organizations (what are called ESO’s). These leaders have to continue to paint a positive, growth story while at the same time being honest about where their community challenges lie. This is never more apparent in the ESO Annual Report which seems to be for the funders and not the actual founders they are serving.