Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Of all the complexities of entrepreneurship, one takes the cake: ego. Every entrepreneur needs it, but it can also be the undoing of many entrepreneurs. When you have a healthy ego, you have the will to win as a business owner. It’s what motivates you to take on the work you’re doing and grow a company you love. But, as with most things, excess can bring ruin. Wondering how to get what you need from your ego while not crossing the line? Here’s my take.
Related: 3 Ways to Put Your Ego Aside and Get Stuff Done
The fuel and the flame
Everyone has an ego, but its nature varies from person to person. Some have had their self-concept wounded after many hard knocks and are struggling to regain the belief that they can succeed as entrepreneurs.
Others have a functional ego, are confident in their strengths, and are driven to strive for what might feel impossible. In this case, the ego is a necessary, powerful tool that becomes the fuel for ambition.
But when ego takes hold in a self-absorbed, prideful way, it turns from fuel into a destructive flame. It takes you from being self-assured to thinking you can do no wrong. It transforms you from open-minded to ignorant of your blind spots. And this is when it can burn down your business and personal life.
Related: Want to Build a Successful Business? Let Go of Your Ego
What does a problematic ego look like?
Some people have trouble discerning confidence from a ruinous ego. Here are some signs of an ego that’s traveled past confidence into destructive territory.
- Not asking for help or feedback. Sometimes, this starts innocently enough. Business owners are busy, and soliciting help or feedback can feel like one more thing to add to an already packed schedule. But if you don’t seek out support or proactively ask your team members to provide feedback, you’ll miss many important things. Every entrepreneur should develop a mechanism and cadence by which they regularly get help from others and learn what others in their company are feeling and experiencing.
- Not listening to others. This is similar to the point above, except that it has more to do with turning to advisors and experts. Those with problematic egos start to believe they don’t need anyone else’s guidance, even those who have measurably succeeded more than they have.
- Believing you know better than others. Noticing a theme here? Once again, this has to do with dismissing the opinions and advice of other people. In this case, though, it’s about arrogance. You don’t listen to your wife’s input about a new hire because you think you know more than she does. You reject your co-founder’s concerns about a strategy you want to implement because you think your understanding of the idea surpasses theirs. This can even manifest as ignoring your own gut about a marketing campaign because you think your knowledge outranks your intuition.
- Not listening to the truth. When ego has truly begun poisoning the well, it shows up as a leader who actually denies the cold, hard facts. Maybe your customers are telling you that your pricing is wrong, and you write them off, saying they’re the wrong customers or cheap. Perhaps your revenue is declining, but you stick your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. Surely, that can’t happen to you. You’ve been on such a roll. Or, maybe you scoff at the data one of your leaders has presented. You say it’s probably not reliable, or it must’ve been twisted in some way because it confirms a narrative with which you disagree.
Related: Why A Big Ego Reduces Your Chance At Business Success
How to come back from the brink
All the behaviors above add up to one thing: an ego that will destroy you and your business. Yes, you need to believe in who you are as a leader and your company’s potential. But you must also face the facts, even when they’re brutal. If other people and the facts tell you things aren’t working, it’s time to reevaluate. Don’t let your ego try to convince you that you’re right, no matter what, because nobody ever is. Period. Full stop.
Reversing the ruin
Whether your ego has already started to damage your path forward or is just starting to rear its head, there’s hope. But it requires honesty and work. Here’s how to salvage your business and your reputation as a strong leader and right the ship:
- Practice self-reflection — Even people with out-of-control egos can usually dig deep enough to recognize their challenges. Spend some time getting back in touch with your instincts and zeroing in on where your ego led you astray. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, who you’ve wronged as a result and where you’re most likely to trip up again. Only by becoming deeply self-aware can you make critical changes.
- Ask for feedback from people you trust — No matter how honest you are with yourself, you likely have blind spots. Surround yourself with people who care about your company’s success and about you as a person and are willing to give you the truth even when it’s hard. Then, invite them to do so regularly.
- Get a business coach — The value of the right business coach is endless. If you don’t have one, get one.
- Listen to your customers — Your customers are the reason you have a company. Remind yourself of this so that you’ll be open to hearing them out even if you disagree with them. It’s the only way to stay in business for the long term.
- Listen to loved ones — They know you best. They see subtleties others may not see. And they say things others may not say. So, do your loved ones a favor and listen like they know better than you — because they do.
To be a successful entrepreneur, you need a healthy ego that fuels your confidence and ambition. But it can turn into a flame that destroys everything you’ve built if you don’t actively rein it in.