I remember the first time I received thunderous applause following a speech. I can also recall all of the positive feedback I received after publishing my first book. And nothing could replace the sense of pride I felt when I started my own business.
The reason? We strive for recognition. It's infectious. It makes us feel invincible.
That's all well and good. But there's also a downside: the development of an unhealthy ego.
While there's nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments, an oversized and inflated ego can bring things tumbling down -- including the business you've put so much into. That's because your ego prevents you from continually learning, seeking out new ideas or opportunities, setting impossible goals and hearing what others think.
The good news is that this is completely preventable by kicking your ego to the curb when starting your own company.
If there's one thing to remember when starting, and running, a business, it's that it's not about you. It's about those you serve: your customers.
"To me, one of the keys to success is being customer-focused," says Pek Pongpaet, the founder of the digital agency, Impekable, named a 2018 Inc. 5000 company. "A lot of inexperienced entrepreneurs, myself included, thought we knew what the customer wanted and started peddling that. I've launched many failed products that way."
He adds, "Nowadays, we start with the customer and try to understand their problems and pain points before we even think about a solution. Taking ego out, and having a razor focus on the customer who is willing to pay money for you to solve their problems, is the key to success."
Don't take yourself too seriously.
There's nothing wrong with a having a little self-confidence. You've taken a risk, and you should definitely be proud of what you've accomplished. At the same time, you need to be humble and not become an egotistical narcissist.
David Olk, CEO and co-founder of Voray, explains this perfectly: "Attitude is everything. You raised a series C? Sold a business once or twice? Congrats, but no one cares. This happens every day. Don't be a jerk and think you're the only one at the top of your game."
He explains, "You can always tell who is the most successful person in the room as they are typically the most humble (and the worst dressed). On the flip side, know that you're not the only one frustrated by fundraising, dealing with annoying investors, or stressed about the business."
Don't be afraid to share your experiences and struggles with others. Keep learning. Be grateful and humble. And, most importantly, enjoy the crazy ride while you're on it.
Get a little help from your friends.
Last year was a milestone for The Beatles' classic album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- it turned 50. While there were a million different articles focused on the iconic album, one stuck with me. It discussed Ringo Starr being insecure about his vocals and not wanting to sing "With a Little Help From My Friends." But, thanks to the encouragement and advice of his bandmates, he sang the tune, and they celebrated together at the end of the session.
If Ringo's ego had gotten in the way, and he didn't literally get a little help from his friends, that song probably would have never made the album. Even if it did, it probably would have taken Ringo much longer to get the vocals right.
Throughout the life cycle of your business, make sure you're soliciting -- and listening to -- advice from your spouse, family, friends, business partner, customers, employees, investors or mentors. They can bring in fresh ideas, new perspectives, and solutions to problems you never would have thought of.
Does that mean you have to implement every idea they suggest? Absolutely not. But you still need to be open to the advice they're sharing with you. They may know something you don't.
Hire people smarter than you.
When you have an oversized ego, you can gravitate toward people who aren't the best and brightest. After all, you don't want anyone else to outshine you, right?
Here's the hard truth: While you do possess strengths and talents, there's always someone more skilled than you. You're not always going to be the smartest person in the room. You're not King Midas. You don't have all the answers. And, despite what you may believe, you're not capable of doing everything in your business.
Whether you're hiring a full-time staff or outsourcing specific responsibilities, always seek out, hire and retain the best of the best. They'll be able to compensate for your weaknesses while enhancing your strengths. Remember that hiring is about growing your business, not pleasing your ego.
I get it: Your business is your baby. Because you care deeply about your business, you want to be involved. But there are times when you need to back off and let your team do its thing.
I ask my oldest daughter about school; if she asks for help, I do my best. While I'm invested in her education, I would never go into her classroom and question her teacher or tell her how to do her job.
The same is true of your business.
Be hands-on and involved. At the same time, allow your team members the freedom to do their specific jobs the way they want. This shows that you have confidence and trust in them, which will motivate them to keep doing their best. Also, science shows that when people work under pressure, they actually perform at lower levels.
Don't compare yourself to other business owners.
Comparing yourself to others is something most of us have done throughout our lives. In school, a classmate got a bigger slice of pizza during lunch. At home, your sibling got to play with that shiny new toy. As an adult, your goofy college buddy started a multimillion-dollar business.
When you get all worked up about someone else's success, that's your ego telling you that you're better than them -- they don't deserve the success they've achieved. On the other end of the spectrum, it could be your ego telling you that you're not good enough to be successful. Either way, the outcome is detrimental.
The fact is that we all have our own definition of success. Sure, that college friend may have a successful business, but did he sacrifice spending time with his friends and family to achieve that? You, on the other hand, have been able to maintain close relationships.
Instead of comparing yourself to other business owners, reflect on everything that you've achieved. How much did you and your business grow? What did you learn? What life experiences have you been through?
Also, focus on the specific goals based on the lifestyle you want to live. You may not be a millionaire, but if you're able to be home every day to spend time with your family, that sounds like a success story to me. And pay attention to values beyond money, such as the praise you receive from your customers.
Starting a business is already a risky and challenging undertaking. Don't make it harder on yourself by letting your ego get in the way.