An Enemy Named Ego
If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned since that glorious day I was legally allowed to be gainfully employed, I would have to say that it’s this:
An un-checked ego is the enemy of the entrepreneur
Now, will I be able to draw direct correlations between my days as a bag-boy (sorry, Courtesy Associate) at Kap's Kitchen? If I dug really deep, I’d likely be able to, but that’s not the point. The point is that the importance of this phrase has been an evolutionary process and it wasn’t until very recently that it was completely validated in my head. Since my first job, I’ve held a variety of titles in many different industries, and I’m able to easily find evidence of this idiom in each circumstance. Ego truly has the ability to stifle key elements of being a successful entrepreneur, or any position of leadership for that matter. Beyond my own experiences, I’ve been relentless in my listening of podcasts and tireless in my reading of articles from key entrepreneurs and leaders in the startup world. This seems to always be an underlying, and sometimes overlaying, theme. The three elements essential to a successful entrepreneur that can easily be compromised by Ego are as follows: Market Validation, Relinquishing Control, and Goal Orientation.
We are creative beings; if you’re reading this blog post, likelihood is that you’re even more so than the average person. We want to create and we want to create now.
Why do you want to create? Are you doing it for yourself or are you doing it to solve a perceived problem? In the vein of building a company or product, you want people to actually use your product or service. Don’t let Ego convince you that working in a bubble is the way to go. Get out there and talk to people about your idea before doing anything else. Risk having your hypothesis proven wrong and don’t jump to discount those who dissent. The best correlation I’ve heard is that a lot of brilliant people think of themselves as crazy scientists. This works very well towards my point. Creating a successful business is a science. In science, it is your goal to constantly disprove hypotheses until you are certain you have a proven fact. And even then, you return to that fact later on and try to disprove it again. This isn’t some masochistic cycle, it is market validation. If you let Ego rule, you won’t learn from your target market and you won't be as successful as you can. You’ll be your biggest fan instead of having the biggest fan-base.
So many people focus on the importance of building a stellar team, and while it is a vital aspect, there is more to it than just recruiting and building an army of wizards, ninjas, and <insert ridiculous metaphorical representation of super-intelligent, hard-working, able-to-pull-rabbits-out-of-their-asses, self-starters here>. You need to learn to build a team with a structure that allows you to delegate and trust that tasks can be carried-out with relatively little oversight from you. I’m not going to go too much deeper into why or how to do that because I would have enough to write a book (only to have it be buried among the hundreds of other books written on the topic). The question is: how do you work towards that end and where does Ego stand to be an obstacle?
I’ll keep this short and sweet in an effort to get you to actually finish this blog post. Essentially, it starts at the very beginning. Find someone to share your idea with. Find a co-founder. Build a board with checks and balances. Do whatever it takes so that you have someone to collaborate with; someone that will keep their eye on the horizon when you are neck deep in fighting fires; someone that is stronger in areas that you are weak. Most importantly, find people that you will trust and respect enough to listen to when they challenge your anticipated trajectory. If you let Ego rule and you try to control all elements of what you are attempting to accomplish, you’ll never realize your true potential. Even Steve Jobs had to be fired from his own company before he could become the visionary he is heralded as today.
The epitome of an Ego driven entrepreneur is someone whose primary goal is to garner all the glory; one who builds a company for the grandeur of being the boss, to show the naysayers that they were able to succeed amongst adversity, and to be able to say that they did it all on their own. While I applaud being goal-oriented, we need to ensure that we have properly orientated our goals. As an entrepreneur, your primary goal is the success of your company, product, or idea.
So this is the part in the blog where I would typically reference the previously discussed elements to create one big climactic point to drive home…I figure by telling you now, you’ve already started formulating the correlations in your own head and I can condense the conclusion of this already obscenely long blog post into two well formulated sentences.
To realize your potential as an entrepreneur, you need to be able to check your Ego at the door. Ensure that you are pursuing your customers’ needs and not just your dreams, don’t be afraid to relinquish control to those that you have chosen to share the journey with, and remember that your primary goal is the success of your venture and not your self.
Edit: As my friend James points out, there is also a positive side to a strong ego: driving force, being able to challenge those in opposition, and that certain je ne sais quoi that people just love to follow. I was speaking more to making decisions purely on Ego. The point is, you need to know when to check it. People like to point out popular ego-maniacs that have been successful. I have two responses: 1) I can almost guarantee that there's more to the backstory that involves a healthier approach, and 2) yes, there will always be outliers.