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Over the last nine years that I’ve run Chop Dawg, I’ve spoken to many founders about the health of their early-stage businesses. Through these talks, I have identified some common threads, both positive and adverse. In this post, I’m writing about one of the biggest red flags when determining whether or not a founder is ready to truly run a sustainable business.
The red flag is having so much of an ego that you are tone-deaf to the needs and desires of those around you.
I think it is important to note, entrepreneurship is inherently built-in with ego, like it or not, so having some ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
You need to have an ego to justify for yourself that you can make it on your own, and go against the template of graduating college, “becoming a professional at a firm,” and starting a “career.” You’ve had just the right amount of ego to know that this isn’t for you and that you’re going to forge your own path beyond a template.
But you need to balance ego with thinking about others. Most of all, you need to keep your perspective, self, and objectively understand how you actually relate to the world around you. There is a very fine line between confidence and cocky. The same between keeping it level-headed and being irrational. With a line so small, more often than not, most individuals have no idea when they’ve crossed it. Most of the time, the egotistical people that I see are those that don’t understand that the perception of how they see themselves is in stark contrast to how they act.
I am sure you can all think of some if not many examples of this over your life. Again, this isn’t just defined by entrepreneurship or business in general. This is a part of our basic human-level programming, so-to-speak.
Before I continue writing, I do not want to sound hypocritical. I still have a little more of an ego than I’d care to admit.
To this very day, ego has affected my judgment. I like to believe I’ve gotten better at it, and I do think that I have, but I would be lying if I say I’ve reached some next level of consciousness without ego.
That isn’t the case.
Again, I am human. It is a part of our programming. I try just to be self-aware enough to know when I am irrational when what I am saying is clouded by my personal biases and beliefs, vs. cold-hard facts or the greater good to solving problems, making progress, etc.
However, I know how much worse I used to be.
I remember during the days of starting my second company Subtle, I was pushing my team to the brink of all-out internal nuclear war to meet a launch deadline that I had set. My team would be pouring in 18-19-20 hour days (and this isn’t an exaggeration), week after week, no days off.
Somehow I believed they could do more.
Somehow I thought I could harness the power of Steve Jobs and create his version of a “reality distortion field.”
I’m lucky no one quit on the spot.
I’m also lucky I didn’t have a few punches thrown in my direction.
When was I much younger, I used to think about “dealing with clients” instead of “working with them” as I do now. The reason why I felt like I was “dealing with clients”? Because I honestly thought that deep down, I knew more than them. Why weren’t they listening to me with every word I suggested to them? You mean to tell me they know how to sell their businesses, even online? Hah!
I was naive.
I was an idiot.
Young Josh was a fool.
Sure, I could argue I was young and inexperienced; that is a part of it, but the reality is that plays into why the ego was my worst enemy.
It was when I hit my lowest point in 2013-2014, that I knew I needed to fix.
I’ve documented it before on the Chop Dawg library, those weaknesses, the low-lights of the entrepreneurial journey. The points where Subtle was a failure. We were running Chop Dawg without a purpose. Team morale was utterly terrible. Client relationships were nowhere near where they needed to be. My health was neglected. My mind was a mess.
All of this stemmed from my ego.
I needed these hits, these figurative punches to the face to knock me down, and give me perspective.
To make me humble, grateful, appreciative.
To better deploy empathy on my team, and today, the incredible clients that we have at Chop Dawg.
I contribute a lot of our successes today to these weak points in time. Most of it comes from my amazing team at Chop Dawg, but I do not doubt if it weren’t for this rough period, I would have never realized how much potential we had, or how fantastic my team is.
Everything plays a part.
So that brings me back to the main purpose of this article, the ego.
Ego is what more often than not, cripples what should have been great companies, great startups.
I don’t just see it with brand new entrepreneurs like I was either. I see it every day with seasoned veterans too.
I deal with egos every day of the week, as I am sure all of you do too.
Individuals let their egos get in the way of a compromise that can move their companies forward; to increase overall morale that would, therefore, enhance their productivity. They let their personal feelings get in the way of their greater goals and aspirations, which if accomplished, would far surpass whatever their ego wanted to think or hear in that small, forgettable moment in time.
They are their own worst enemies, and because that line between an ego working for you or against you is so small, they don’t see it.
So, how do you correct this?
If you’re an entrepreneur or business executive, and you are reading this, you might think to yourself, wait, is this me?
Have I let my ego get in the way of bigger things?
Has my ego affected my team? My partners? My overall mission?
If you are seriously asking yourself those questions, right now, it means you’re grounded enough to be self-aware and to better pay attention to yourself in the moments your ego comes out to play in a bad way.
So again, you ask, how do I correct this? How do I better control myself?
It takes practice.
I recently sent this quick survey for everyone on my team to fill out.
These were the questions:
1) What am I good at as a leader?
2) What am I bad at as a leader?
3) What have I improved at most since you’ve known me?
4) Where have I shown a disappointing amount of growth since you’ve known me?
5) Why do you work? What makes you work? Has your reason changed each year or in bigger intervals?
I asked for honesty in earnest, and that’s what I go for my responses.
Would my team see me the way I was hoping that they would? If given the opportunity to say anything, what would they say?
I plan on writing a future post that goes deeper into this exercise, but I will say that the responses have helped me to manage my ego even further.
For managing your ego, the first step is recognizing when you are acting on ego alone.
It could happen from a business call you’re taking, where you realize you are about to say something driven by ego, not rational thought.
It might occur when you receive an email that boils your blood.
It might happen when the results you were expecting are not coming to the surface, and your first instinct is to blame everyone but yourself.
Recognize these moments.
Do not feel ashamed because you understand your ego. That is okay. Again, I would be lying if I don’t say I catch myself still having them.
But choose not to act based on ego.
Choose instead, to take a step back, realize what is going on, and focus on the bigger picture.
That is the second step, the bigger picture.
Thinking about the bigger picture outside of your present moment helps to ground your ego.
Remind yourself of how many people are out there working for you, to help you, that care about you. How the universe is giving you opportunities that you do not want to languish.
Remind yourself that the person on the other end who is making you frustrated, more than likely means well. Not many people are truly out there trying to bring you down maliciously. It is more likely lack of communication or different perspectives that having a dialogue could resolve, right?
When you focus on the big picture, it keeps you grounded.
It reminds you how fleeting ego can be. How there are much more important things, your time, energy, frustrations, excitement, and everything in-between this spectrum should be better spent.
And this is where step three comes in, choose to act productively.
If you’re able to remind yourself of the bigger picture, at this point, you’re going to talk yourself, or better yet, your ego, off that figurative ledge of no return.
You’re not going to send back that lovely two worded email to the person you so badly wanted to say in the heat of the moment.
You’re not going to tell the person on the phone to do something you will immediately regret.
You’re not going to act impulsively.
You’re not going to let your ego, and your emotions, interfere with your purpose, or the greater good of yourself, your team, your partners, and everything that you have going for you.
Instead, you choose to act productively by recognizing why you feel a certain way and choosing to resolve that emotion.
It is instead of venting unnecessarily, you communicate and articulate your thoughts, feelings into a form of a blog post that serves to be constructive to your self-thought, and can better help others at the same time.
This is where you better communicate and articulate your feelings without being defensive.
Where you realize perhaps your plans are not going according to plan, and instead of being dumbfounded why that is, you start focusing on fixing it.
Where you decide to give yourself a five-minute breather, let yourself calm down, then act.
It is healthy.
It is well-thought-out.
It is for the betterment of everything you’ve spent so much energy to accomplish.
I don’t think of having an ego in absolutes. Remember, it can also serve as a mix of a survival mechanism and internal compass built into us all.
I do believe though most of us do not take the time to understand better what makes us tick, and what drives us as a result.
I do not think you need to be figuratively punched in the face like I was to realize this.
I feel deep-down, it just takes being more self-aware at the get-go, practicing gratitude, and reminding yourself you always can be better. You’re reprogramming your internal operating system, the way we were built.
You can be better, and you will be.
Practice using your ego, for the better.