Successful entrepreneurs put all of their efforts into building and growing their new ventures, setting their own egos aside, and prioritizing hard work above all else. Same goes for anyone trying to advance their career—it's all strategy, skills, and relationships; you don't move ahead simply by being an incredible person.
But because our personal strengths and attributes often have a lot to do with our success, it isn't always clear whether we're acting in the interests of our goals or simply indulging our own egos. It's actually good to be confident, but walking the line between self-assured and egotistical may be a trickier balancing act than you'd think. Here are some warning signs that your ego may be leading you astray.
No matter where you are in life, there’s always someone who knows more. I’m constantly learning from those around me, as are the many business owners I meet. When we stop learning, we stop evolving, and our careers and businesses suffer as a result. It’s important to respect the expertise of others and listen to what they say, even if they have less experience than we do.
Many people like to imagine they're receptive to others' feedback but don't take it to heart or put it into action. We may hear their advice and dismiss it based on what we know to be true, but it’s important to always listen. And knowing how to evaluate feedback on its merits starts with keeping your ego in check.
One of the biggest missteps your ego can cause is that you don’t take time to pick your plan apart. Whether you’re writing a business plan or plotting your next career move, I’ve found it’s vital that you be able to look for flaws in your own work. Even once your business is up and running or when you feel your career is on the right track, you should constantly be looking for ways to improve. Unfortunately, your ego can get in the way of that. Confidence can make for great drive, but it shouldn't prevent you from being self-critical.
"Independent self-starter" is such a common phrase in job descriptions that it's basically a cliché, but clearly recruiters want that. And many startup founders do everything alone in the early days out of necessity. In short, the business world rewards people who thrive by working solo—at least up to a point.
But that can quickly get counterproductive. For entrepreneurs, it means you’ll be spending all your time updating your social media accounts and designing your website. Instead, you should look for things you can outsource and turn those tasks over to expert freelancers and service providers. If you're looking to push your career to the next level, it never hurts to ask for help—whether that means networking, or even hiring a career coach to help revamp your resume.
This is the opposite problem of doing everything on your own. Maybe you focus solely on meeting with clients and showing off your prototype. In the meantime, your new company's bills aren’t being paid and important meetings are falling through the cracks. While there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing the more time-consuming tasks, a new business owner will often need to handle a sizable part of day-to-day operations until enough income comes in to hire a full team. Heck, I even stayed every Friday after work to clean the bathroom. You do what you have to do to survive.
For job seekers, this type of egotistical thinking comes into play when you refuse to consider certain opportunities because you've already "paid your dues." In order to move your career forward, you need to abandon certain kinds of tasks and pick up higher-level ones. Some job titles will simply be below your expertise—no question about it. But it's crucial to evaluate each new opportunity's relative pros and cons as holistically and dispassionately as you can before deciding whether it's right for you.
An entrepreneur can spend months going in the wrong direction before changing course, just as many of us barrel down career paths that we know don't make us happy. For some, ego can get in the way of correcting course and lead to eventual failure. It’s important to always watch for signs that you may have taken a wrong turn and admit when you need to shift.
When I started my company Due, I was confident that online invoicing was the next big thing. Turns out we wasted around eight months building something that made us no money. After admitting to myself I was wrong, my business was able to move forward. Now we’re thriving.
In some cases, the leader is the problem. Even with the best concept, I’ve found there are simply some people who scare others away. Whether they’re pitching investors or interacting with their employees, these people simply lack the skills necessary to have productive interactions with others. And because they see themselves as uniquely confident, they're not very likely to take feedback well or to learn a new approach.
Someone who has an ego problem may fall into the trap of dismissing what other people say or coming across as condescending. That's rarely the type of person anyone wants to hire, promote, or work with. When it comes to entrepreneurs, investors say "no" right off the bat, employee turnover is high, and networking is always a no-go, since people immediately distance themselves when they catch a whiff of an egotistical personality.
Whether you're running a startup or just trying to advance your career, if you find your networking efforts aren't paying off and no one seems to be responding, it could be a sign that it’s time to soften your approach.
Being confident and self-possessed is an asset, but it can also be a liability—that much is axiomatic. But keeping an eye on these six habits in particular can help you figure out just where that line falls. Some problems may not actually look like problems to you, but that's all the more reason to maintain a reliable ego barometer. Only when you admit that your approach may be off kilter can you actually learn and grow.