Chances are you have a decent-sized ego, or you wouldn't be an entrepreneur. It takes self-confidence to blaze your own path and assume all the risk and responsibility that come with going it alone. A healthy ego is often an advantage in business.
But once you reach a certain level of success, too much ego can become a liability. If you always have to be Numero Uno, your company and employees are left playing second fiddle. And that can limit everyone's growth.
No wonder some of the most powerful business leaders are so restrained in the way they wield their power and don't throw their weight around. They're happy to work behind the scenes. Instead of reveling in their role as The Big Cheese, they willingly share their power with others.
Take Andrew Carnegie, one of the most successful tycoons of the 19th century. A Scottish immigrant from a poor family, this brilliant man worked his way up from a telegraph messenger earning $2.50 a week to co-founder of the world's first billion-dollar corporation, U.S. Steel.
Yet Carnegie was never dazzled by his own accomplishments. Rather, he is famous for attributing his success to the talents of others. Consider the modest inscription on his tombstone: "Here lies a man who knew how to enlist the service of better men than himself."
Now that's an interesting approach to leadership.
Hiring By Ego
Visionaries in the mold of Andrew Carnegie not only have a gift for spotting talent--they're not afraid to share the spotlight with those who might potentially outshine them.
Obviously, not everyone's ego is up to this challenge. In my peer advisory board meetings for business owners, such hiring decisions come up all the time. Over the years, I've observed numerous entrepreneurs reject outstanding candidates because they're consciously or unconsciously threatened by their abilities.
Conversely, I've seen entrepreneurs joyfully seize the opportunity to hire a rising superstar. Years ago, one such entrepreneur told me that he hired people smarter than himself because, ultimately, it made him look smarter. This turned out to be prophetic. After selling his company, this man went on to become a senior officer with a Fortune 100 food company. He was hired for his management skills.
Managing By Ego
Too much ego can also get in the way of managing effectively. If you must micromanage every project and insist on having the last word on every decision, you're discouraging your staff from taking ownership. And when you prevent your people from growing in their jobs, you keep your company from growing, too.
Does ego play a role in your management style? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you find it hard to delegate responsibility?
- Do you implement your employees' suggestions, or is your knee-jerk impulse to shoot them down?
- When an employee has a good idea, do you give them credit for it?
- Do you tend to micromanage projects?
- Do you facilitate every staff meeting?
If you answered yes to these questions, perhaps it's time for an ego check. Try to change your outlook by breaking some of these habits. For example:
- Pick a project languishing on your to-do list and hand it off to an employee. Getting it done, even imperfectly, beats not getting it done at all.
- Start soliciting employee suggestions , and then implement some, even if you privately think they're silly. As long as they don't do any harm, the benefits you'll reap are worth it.
- Instead of leading every meeting , ask employees to take turns facilitating. You might be surprised by what you learn.
Sure, it's kind of nice to be the Top Dog, the Big Kahuna, the Grand Poobah of your domain, but in the end, that's not what solid leadership is all about.
Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization, a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org .