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Check Your Head

Don't let arrogance get the better of you.

To make your business succeed, you need a certain degree of cockiness, ego, pride . . . whatever you want to call it. In this sense, "pride" is believing that you are worthy of success and have the ability to create something valuable.

But as you taste the good life, beware. The same pride that drives your achievement can also drive your business into the ground. When pride swells into arrogance, it blinds you. You may not see the competition winning your customers or new technologies threatening to make your business model obsolete--until it's too late. Arrogance hurts relationships with employees, customers, investors and suppliers--the keys to your venture's long-term success.

How do you keep from crossing the line from healthy entrepreneurial pride to destructive arrogance? Here are five tips:

1. Surround yourself with excellent people. It would be easy for Gene Hoffman, president and CEO of EMusic.com Inc., a Redwood City, California, company that enables online consumers to sample and purchase music in MP3 format, to get a big head. Only 24 years old, Hoffman has grown EMusic.com (his second start-up) from an idea in January 1998 into a publicly-traded company with more than 160 employees.

How does Hoffman keep his ego in check? He says he strives to put the best people around him, even if they might think differently. "If you have, as in my case, a CFO and vice presidents of technology and marketing telling you 'You know, this probably isn't the right direction,' you need to listen to them. They can see things more clearly because they don't have the same investment in your pride as you do," says Hoffman.

If you run a solo operation, look for successful entrepreneurs who would be willing to spend time with you and give you objective feedback on your business ideas.

2. Listen to criticism. When you receive criticism, whether from people you trust or even those you despise, put your ego aside. Instead, ask yourself: "What can I learn from this criticism? How can I use this criticism to improve my company or business plan or investor presentation?" You may find that even your harshest critics will give you the million-dollar ideas you need to take your venture over the top.

3. Continuously study your customers and competitors. Entrepreneurs who become arrogant about their successes often ease up on the activities that got them to the top in the first place, such as anticipating customer needs and competitor moves. When things start going well, don't back off. Double your efforts to learn as much as you can about your customers and competitors. Keep focused on the activities that make your venture successful.

4. Get other people to talk about themselves. When business is really cooking, resist the urge to brag. Sure, be excited and proud of what you've done, but also remember that the more you talk about yourself, the less people want to be around you, causing you to miss potentially lucrative business opportunities. When you get people talking about their own successes, dreams or anything about their lives, they will become more receptive to you.

5. For successes, give credit to others; for failures, take personal responsibility. Hoffman puts it this way: "The best coach says that when the team wins, it's because the players executed well, and when the team loses, it's his fault. If you're willing to put your ego aside and admit that some things don't go the way you want them to go

The Superego

How can you tell when your pride has become arrogance? You find yourself:

  • Avoiding people who think differently.
  • Being obsessed with how others perceive you.
  • Ignoring the competition.
  • Trashing employees, suppliers, investors or even customers in front of other people.
  • Thinking you're humble.

Sean M. Lyden (seanlyden@mindspring.com) is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company that specializes in ghostwriting articles. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues. What psychological obstacles to success are you trying to overcome? Tell us at bsumag@entrepreneur.com.

Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.

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