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Is Your Ego Overshadowing the Growth of Your Business?

February 2, 2010

Originally published at


There are certain undeniable qualities that the most successful CEO’s share, and believe it or not, “big ego” isn’t one of them. I suppose it can be argued that there are plenty of great leaders whose over-inflated self-images don’t get in the way of their abilities to lead; however, 9 times out of 10, we see that hubris can be a crippling blow to an otherwise strong organization.

To come up with some of these indefinable qualities of successful CEO’s, I considered the behaviors of entrepreneurs we’ve had on The BusinessMakers Show. I drew inspiration from the stories they’ve shared with us.

Here’s what I’ve concluded:

1. Top professionals never think they know everything. Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Computers, was a confident designer and computer engineer, but he knew his weaknesses. Though he comes off as being an engineering know-it-all in his interview (and let’s face it, he probably does know it all), he gives partner Steve Jobs complete and total credit for the successful marketing of the product, and the building of Apple, the company.

Steve McKee, one of the founders and President of advertising and marketing agency McKee Wallwork Cleveland had a lot of success with his fledgling firm right from the get-go. Then, things started to go sideways, and business stalled. To define and reverse this pause in growth, McKee embarked on a five year research project, speaking to countless executives about the stalls they’ve experience. He gleaned from them what has and hasn’t worked to jump-start growth. McKee took this knowledge back to his own business. He reexamined the company’s foundation, and made tough choices where necessary. He reinvigorated his team, and eventually turned that hard work into a book I highly recommend, called When Growth Stalls.

2.  Successful entrepreneurs understand the concept of “karma” and aren’t threatened by other people’s success. Peter Shankman, Founder and CEO of Help A Report Out ( was able to found an entire business on his belief in karma. Shankman told us that throughout his years on the client side of PR, he built strong relationships with journalists, always sending valuable information and sources to them when they needed it, even if it didn’t directly benefit him. Shankman understood early on that you get what you give. Even knowing that he or his client wasn’t the right fit to be a source for a story, he proactively passed on tips to more knowledgeable people. Those people remembered him for his help in landing coverage. Today, his newsletter, Help A Reporter Out is much more than a newsletter. It is changing the way journalists and PR professionals communicate and interact, all because Shankman understood that his altruism would eventually come back to him, times three.

3. The best CEOs listen, and they listen to everyone. Serial entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell is responsible for Pong, Atari, and even Chuck E. Cheese. Bushnell is also the originator of casual Fridays, throwing beer bashes for employees at the end of the week to show his appreciation. On a more serious note, Bushnell told us how he established a meritocracy. He encouraged employees to experiment and work hard. Those that excelled moved up quickly. By not stifling his creative team, he was able to get the best out of his developers and quickly pinpoint who showed real promise.

Another serial entrepreneur we’ve had on The Businessmakers is Bazaarvoice CEO Brett Hurt. Hurt is the founder of another little company you might have heard of (Coremetrics, anyone?). He sold that company, and went on to found the most successful customer review technology company in the world. Many of the biggest – and smallest – brands in the world use Bazaarvoice for their reviews, and it’s not simply because they provide a good technology solution. Hurt understands that building a community in the workplace and providing employees a forum for having their voices heard is a major part of being the CEO. Their culture is outstanding. Hurt told us that the Bazaarvoice employees even rate their managers and executives… how many companies can say that?

4. They are man (or woman) enough to hire the right people. Most people think of George Foreman as the superstar who knocked out Joe Frazier in the Sunshine Showdown, but today, Foreman is a successful entrepreneur with a grilling empire that spans the globe. Foreman noted in his interview with host Russ Capper that during his losing battle with Mohammad Ali, Ali had a man named Angelo Dundee in his corner. Ali was getting a little cocky, thinking Foreman was tired. As Foreman put it, he was “playing around with [him].” Just as Foreman was about to land a blow, Dundee yelled out “Muhammad, don’t play with that sucker.” Ali listened, stopped playing around, and the fight was over. The message Foreman took from that fight was to hire people who would tell it to him straight, people to whom he’d always listen, saying “If ever I had a chance to fight for the title again, I wish I had Angelo Dundee in my corner.” Twenty years later, Foreman did hire Dundee, in spite of the fact that he’d coached his former competition to victory against him.

5. They give credit where credit is due. Tom Fatjo, Jr. is the man behind America’s largest waste management provider WCA Waste Corp. When asked about how the company really came together, Fatjo made a point to call out his partner Lew Walters. Walters was a financial mastermind, and knew the in’s and out’s of successful strategy. Fatjo emphatically states that, even though he himself always seems to get the credit for the company’s success, had it not been for Walters, it never would have happened.

To be a good entrepreneur, you need to possess a certain level of confidence that incites people to follow you. It is the best entrepreneurs who know not to confuse confidence with ego. The need to always be right or compete with those you work with won’t win you the respect of your faithful team. Once you let go of your ego, the chance that you’ll reach your full potential will grow exponentially.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2010 7:07 am

    Thank you for the kind words, Esther. This is a great read and one to live by. Ego kills business fast.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      February 18, 2010 7:47 pm

      No, thank you for giving me great material to work with!

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