Checking Your Ego At The Door

Sometimes it’s extraordinarily difficult to have perspective when it comes to your own actions.  I noticed this recently with someone who I consider to be a friend that asked me for business advice.  His problem had nothing to do with an actual issue, it had to do with his ego being bruised.

He had been partnering with another company successfully in an adjacent market for some time – they’d both done very well leveraging their existing assets to collaboratively grow into a new space for their businesses.  His partner came to him and said that my friend’s business wasn’t keeping pace with their growth and the quality of the work being delivered by his staff wasn’t high enough.

There were several reasons for this.  My friend’s business was doing much of the heavy lifting technically and the cost to increase their speed of execution and quality of the technology was considerable.  Conversely, his partner’s business was handling logistics which actually became more cost efficient the more they did because they got economies of scale.

I looked at his partner’s email on the topic and it seemed pretty reasonable, in fact, it seemed more like an opening to renegotiating their arrangement and giving my friend’s business more recognition financially for the work they were doing.  My take was that his partner was willing to shift their financial terms more into my friend’s favour if my friend was willing to invest that back into help them both grow this opportunity.

Except ego got in the way.

My friend read the letter first as an insult and then as a subtle threat.  He believed his partner was suggesting that he’d kill the arrangement and take it all over unless my friend invested substantially.  By the time we spoke, he was already formulating battle plans on how to take out his partner.

The first thing I did was point out that logically, he couldn’t cut out his partner’s business from the venture because the logistics were the secret sauce of what they were doing.  Yes, the technology was the most expensive piece of the puzzle, but the reality was it also happened to be the most easily reproducible part of their arrangement.  Basically, if he wanted to continue offering this service, he needed his partner’s logistics business.

The next thing I did was the sensitive part… I was entirely insensitive.

I told my friend flat out that his ego was bruised.  He took the email and subsequent conversation with his partner as an attack personally.  I explained that he believed deep down his partner was questioning whether he could take care of his business.

Then I told him to stop being butthurt and read between the lines of the email – look for what his partner was saying rather than what he was writing.

Suddenly it became clear to him, it was the opening offer to renegotiate terms.

Within a day or two, they’d changed their financial split and everything was headed back in the right direction.  My friend apologised for being childish and his partner apologised for his clumsy email which came out of respect for not wanting to question my friend about how he ran his business.

The whole situation made sense to me from the beginning because I didn’t have any real skin in the game and my ego was not in the ring taking the beating.

But that’s the big lesson here.  You need to be able to stop and take a deep breath occasionally and work out whether your anger is coming from you being actually wronged or if it’s a perceived wrong and is really nothing more than your ego taking a bump.

I’m not suggesting that you be a doormat and allow people to walk all over you.  This is a common mistake that people make, they confuse confidence and self-assurance with ego and nothing could be further from the truth.  Confidence is the certainty you feel that you know the right course of action to take because you know what you’re capable of achieving whereas ego is a deeper, more raw emotion.  Ego is attached to your self-worth, it’s not about skills, talents or capability, it’s more how you feel about yourself.

In business, you need to keep your confidence and your ego in delicate balance because they can often appear to come from the same place.

The simple truth for me is that when it comes to business, I always try and check my ego at the door.  I don’t want to make decisions based on my sense of self-worth but based on my ability to manage the desired outcome of that decision.

The next time you’re facing an issue where you find yourself angry at a question or unsure about how you answer, take a second to think – is this uncertainty caused by your ego or something else?  I always ask myself, “Am I angry that they’ve asked the question or am I worried about answering?”

Once I know the answer to that question, I generally know whether my ego is in check or if it’s running out of control.

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