Check yourself before you wreck yourself: 9 ways your ego could be holding your business back

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

cat with ego of a lionI recently came by some interesting feedback from a fellow Tenfold coach’s client. He told us that the most valuable thing he had gotten out of his sessions so far was how his ego was holding his business back. I’ll admit it – I was a little taken aback. Quiet and mild-mannered, I certainly didn’t have this guy pegged as an ego-maniac.

This exchange reminded me that ego-imbalance doesn’t always result in a mahogany tan, bad comb-over and a “bull in a china shop” approach to relationship management (Oh, hello Donald). You don’t have to have an obviously inflated sense of self for it to become a problem in your business. Ego management is an exercise in balance; your ego is an asset that must be respected for its value and contribution, but also kept in check.

Ego is not a dirty word
The word ‘ego’ comes from the Latin word for “I”. Psychology has borrowed it to refer to our sense of personal identity and self-esteem – the collection of beliefs we have about ourselves.

Almost all our Tenfold coaching clients have one thing in common. They have backed themselves enough to take a risk that few have the courage to admit that they dream about. They started a business. It takes self-respect and confidence to do this, especially in the early days when you often aren’t getting a lot of high-fives from those around you. Before you get some runs on the board, your ego may be all you have to keep you going. This is no small thing it has helped you to achieve.


As your business grows, your ego must make room to allow everything (and everyone) else to grow up around it. If your ego is calling the shots, it can start to negatively impact the success of your business and damage your ability to provide positive leadership.

How to know when your ego is no longer your amigo:

There are some clear signs that your ego is writing checks your business can’t cash. Here are some indicators that I mentor my business coaching clients to be on the lookout for (and some tips for putting that ego back in its proper place):


You don’t take any holidays because (despite having a capable team in place) you don’t believe that your business could possibly run without you

This problem is as common as mud. You’ve been there since the beginning and it is hard to let go and watch your business take off into the world without you holding its hand.

Ego management tip:
When you say, “I can’t possibly take time off – everything would fall apart,” your team will hear “I don’t trust you. I don’t believe in you”. I am almost positive that this is not the message you would be meaning to send.

Trust your team. Train a few key people who can keep your ‘director’s chair’ warm for you; work with them to fill any gaps in their knowledge and skills. Then…take a deep breath and plan that holiday. Maybe take a short break at first to test the waters. Nothing too bad can happen in a few days. This will provide you with the proof you need in the future to know everything will be ok.


You believe that you are the only person in your business who really knows how to do everything the ‘right’ way.
Another common (and understandable) belief. After all, if you want something done right, do it yourself, right? Not if you want to grow your business. You are going to need to be able to focus on working ‘on’ your business, not just ‘in’ your business if you want to achieve those next-level results.

Ego management tip:
You don’t have to wear all the hats! Find your ‘A-team’, find your mentors… find your tribe. Small business doesn’t have to mean going solo. Once you experience a certain level of growth it will become impossible to do it all on your own. This brings us to…


You don’t hire people who are ‘better at it’ than you are
Chances are that your business is based on your area of expertise. As much as we would like this to mean that we are incredibly smart and ‘great at everything’, unfortunately expertise is not often transferrable. Your ego may also fool you that it is easier to ‘control’ people who have less skill and experience to draw upon – that way they might not notice the gaps in your own capabilities.

Ego management tip:
Smart leaders know that the people standing next to them need to be able to do a better job than they could. It might grate on the ego at first but when you build a team whose skills complement your own, it’s a real gamechanger.


You aren’t setting realistic goals
If you aren’t reaching your targets, it’s worth exploring whether you are setting your sights a little too high – perhaps because it is more exciting to dream big or it makes you feel successful. It is a good thing to believe in your business’ potential, but when you inevitably cannot reach those impossible targets it will have the opposite effect; you will become disappointed – even hopeless – and productivity will drop.

Ego management tip:
Make sure you are setting SMART goals ie make sure your objectives are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. This proven model ensures that you aren’t setting yourself or your team up for failure.


You make decisions based on your own preferences, rather than considering what your ideal customer would choose
Logo design, product features or range, communication style… these are things that should be selected specifically to appeal to your customers and fulfil their needs. It is only natural to see things from our own point of view (and to believe that what we like would appeal to anybody). It is important, however, to realise that you are not the ‘everyman’. If your ego is causing you to place your own desires and needs at the centre of your business, then you are likely the very thing standing between you and your growth goals.

Ego management tip:
Modern business models emphasise the importance of being ‘customer-centric’. There is a lot of evidence to support the idea that this is key to your business’ success. Focus on your customers’ wants and needs – how can your products and services enhance their lives?


You don’t think anything about your business needs to change
(despite not being where you would like to be)
Are you guilty of using the phrase “but that’s not how we do things around here”? An over-inflated ego tells us that everything we do is ‘right’ and therefore we don’t need to change. But if you do what you always do, you’ll get what you always get. This kind of inflexible thinking will cause you to miss out on opportunities.

Ego management tip:
If you are not achieving at your desired level, then you are going to have to do something different. Try to realise that this doesn’t have mean that what you have been doing up until now was ‘wrong’ – it may just be that your customers’ needs have changed and you are showing flexibility by adapting to meet those needs.


You have trouble asking for help
If you are drowning, but not waving (for help), then your ego may be a problem. It’s that proverbial pride that comes before the fall. If no one knows you are struggling then they won’t help you… and you’ll sink further into your hole.

Ego management tip:
Recognising that you need help and asking for it isn’t weakness, it’s wisdom. Any kind of leader needs to have an ‘inner-circle’; a select group of people who you can go to for support, advice, encouragement and as a sounding board for your ideas. For more on this, check out our blog on why it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top.


You take risks in your business without doing the ‘numbers’
You don’t need to check the finances before you make that large purchase – the numbers are all safely stored in your magnificent brain… proceed with extreme caution! Making business decisions blindly is quite simply not a good idea. Borrowing and investing money based on the expected results paves the way for major cashflow issues – a leading cause of small business closure.

Ego management tip:
Pay special attention to your financial statements and make sure you are operating within your means – not your dreams.


You find it hard to admit when you are wrong
If you find yourself refusing to back down in a debate even though you can see that the other person is making more sense than you are, you might need to put your ego on a strict diet of humble pie. Your business won’t gain much from you prioritising your own ideas or refusing to see the writing on the wall when your pet projects are failing.

Ego management tip:
If you begin to see that you have been passionately arguing for something that just isn’t working or won’t have the desired result, then fall on your sword and just admit it. It takes greater courage (and takes far less energy) to do this than it does to keep flogging a dead horse. People have much more respect for leaders who can face up to and learn from their mistakes.


An ego trip is a journey to nowhere
Self-belief has helped humans achieve extraordinary things: circumnavigate the globe, cure disease, fly to the moon… and yes, strike out on their own. Ego problems begin when this self-belief tips over into arrogance, pride and selfishness. By being on the look-out for the above behaviours, small business owners can put a stop to egoism before it costs them their success. The solutions are simple but require self-awareness and humility. Give credit where it is due, try to learn something from everyone you meet and maintain perspective. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too”.