We all have an ego. It varies in size, weight and visibility, but we all have one. It is human nature to want to mean something in the world or to be admired for something that we’ve accomplished. It starts as a child looking for approval from a parent or a peer. It continues in life to be something that propels you if kept in check or destroys you if you let it lead.
To be an entrepreneur you must have an ego. Politicians, writers, actors, musicians, tv hosts, reality show contestants, the mailman, the grocery clerk…they all have one as well. Ego is a central requirement to have enough confidence, enough hubris to aim for something big and take it. But there is a process, a way to keep your ego at bay so it doesn’t overflow before it is deserved.
Ego is a life force that can affect a career or relationship path. If you exert too much unearned ego at the start of your career you will rub people the wrong way and be labelled. If you don’t push a little out in front at that same time, you will most likely be ignored. What is the ego balance?
I like to visualize ego as the path of earth reentry that spacecraft have to take. Too steep (too much ego) and the craft will burn up. Too narrow (not enough ego) and it will bounce off into space. The perfect balance between speed and the angle of descent leads to success.
As an entrepreneur, there are 4 phases of ego.
Early in a career the ego needs to be contained. Too much and it is off-putting. Too little and there is nothing memorable. You need to understand when to assert and when to leave it alone. If you look back at today’s most successful artists to before they were stars they will often seem as though they are completely different people. That artist is driven by ego and a craft but full of insecurities as they read for a part, sing to empty rooms or campaign from the heart. Business people are no different. Humble confidence.
A little bit of success in any field bolsters the confidence and brings with it a little ego that escapes into the world. You start to feel as though people should recognize you or listen to you because of the success. The release of ego needs to be earned and timed. Believing your own press releases too much ego into the world. Making up your own press means you are overflowing with too much ego and have no control over it. It must be controlled. Just listen to interviews with young athletes or artists. Most of their comments are about the team or cast and contributing to the win or the play or the ensemble and praising their team, band or director. They have been trained to keep the ego in check. Sports teams train players to keep their ego controlled for the health of the team. We all know players that have overstepped in this arena and let their ego spill all over the clubhouse. Those guys are still not in the hall of fame because their ego oozed out and was rubbed in everyone’s faces.
At the core, ego is a belief in the self. If trained properly, it can be a massive secret weapon. It can help people persevere and overcome incredible odds. This is what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and business leader. Every entrepreneur or small business owner has a deep belief in the fact that what they are building is something that other people will value. Despite the many people who will wonder why or feel as though there is no way that the idea will succeed, the entrepreneur pushes forward. What gives them the right to do this? To venture into the unknown and try to build something that has never been built before? To shun the traditions of the workforce in order to follow a dream? Ego. This is where an ego needs to be given some leeway, to be released into the world. Ego is stamina. Ego is a self-belief in the abilities of the entrepreneur. Without a little extra ego at this formative time, there is no entrepreneur and there is no business. You need to believe in your ability to get it done and to stick it out when others are saying you are crazy. That is all ego.
Here’s the tricky part. Ego is a fuel for entrepreneurs but at some point it becomes an accelerant that burns everything down if used too much or for the wrong reasons. This is where it goes so poorly for so many. It usually starts with success coming too early in the process or too quickly and the belief is that it is warranted and the attention becomes expected. There are so many examples here that cover every industry. When it happens, the ego subsumes the entrepreneur and it must be able to be corralled or it will need to be fed.
Having an ego is not at issue. It is the life-force of the entrepreneur. Used properly it will propel you forward. The opposite is also true. To be filled with ego yet humble is the mix. Those that practice this will have the fuel that motivates them but also the wherewithal to direct it in the right way to use it as a tool.
There are some simple, hard-earned rules about ego that I’ve learned through the years of having one and doing my best to control it.
- It may be your idea but it has to be everyone’s quest so never take the credit
- Show your value by doing the work — it should speak for itself
- Defer to the experts. Don’t say anything if you don’t know what you are talking about
- Be open to feedback and criticism. Don’t take any of it personally, it’s an opportunity to improve
- There is no room for ego inside the family unit. You have to change the diaper and take out the garbage regardless of your net worth…
It’s easy to listen to the praise and let it define you but that path takes too much energy to follow. Just don’t be the asshole in the room and you should be fine.
*photo credit: NASA / Public domain. Soyuz capsule returning to earth