Your Biggest Competitor, Part II

By Chuck Violand

January 30, 2017

To paraphrase a popular public service campaign regarding drinking and driving: “Friends don’t let friends who are blinded by their egos drive their businesses.” Driving your business while you’re intoxicated by your ego is a lot like driving your car when drunk. You’ve convinced yourself that you’re in control, but everyone around you knows better. It’s dangerous to the health of the company and to the people who work there.

How do you get a grip on your ego when your ego has a grip on you? A good starting point is to understand that if you own a business, or if you’ve enjoyed some success in your life, you’re in a high-risk category for having an inflated ego. Sometimes it’s also helpful to look at the people with whom you’ve surrounded yourself.

We all need people in our lives who ground us, who bring balance to our lives, or who challenge us to be better versions of ourselves. These can be family members or friends or professional colleagues. What roles do they play? Are they people who are strong enough to challenge us or to have candid conversations with us when needed? Are we grounded enough to listen to them if they do?

What about the key people in our companies? Do they challenge us? If not, why? Do they feel it’s not safe to do so? Did we intentionally, or unintentionally, surround ourselves with people who won’t challenge us?

How tough are the questions our people ask us? Are they challenging and maybe even just a little uncomfortable? While this isn’t always what we want, it’s often what we need. Perhaps even more important than the questions they ask are those that they don’t.

Another way to surround ourselves with people who will challenge us and bring perspective to our lives is to get involved in outside organizations—ideally at a board level. This could include civic, church, or industry-related organizations. It’s easy to fancy ourselves the smartest guys in the room when that room is no bigger than our own businesses. But when we get involved with other talented people in an outside organization, we quickly gain perspective on our own capabilities and accomplishments.

None of this is to suggest that we shouldn’t have confidence in the decisions we make. We should, and that’s usually a big part of our job. At the same time, we want to make sure our confidence doesn’t grow into arrogance, then into a swollen ego, and that the decisions we make are based on data and sound reasoning—not on some indiscriminate need to feed our egos.

When our goals are based on ego satisfaction rather than business sense, we place ourselves at tremendous risk of making decisions that compromise our values in our attempts to achieve those goals. When our “why” is flawed, misguided, or weak we’ll be tempted to compromise our values, or to give up on our goals the first time we encounter adversity…and there will always be adversity in the pursuit of worthy goals.

While I’m sure most of us can think of a few business owners who could use a second helping of humility, I challenge you to look inward. As Ryan Holiday suggests in his book Ego is the Enemy, the question we should all be asking ourselves is “What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see?”