“Our ego is our silent partner — too often with a controlling interest.” ~Cullen Hightower
The mere mention of the word “ego” conjures images of self-loving, selfish maniacs who would stop at nothing to bolster their own self-image. Frank Cava and Ian Mathews make the clear distinction between ego, a person’s self-esteem, and an egotist, a person wholly consumed with self-importance. Without the ego, there would be no success. What would drive us to fight through resistance, to risk failure, to persevere? Frank and Ian look at how a person can use their ego aspirationally without letting success get to their heads.
In this episode:
- Why parents act like fools at youth sports games
- The absurdity of big egos in large companies
- Why ego tends to show itself once you’ve had success
- Leaders who say “I” when things go poorly and “we” when things go well
- Why sacred cows exist in organizations
- The higher up you move in an organization, the fewer pats on the back you should expect
- How Frank knew he wasn’t getting a big tip at Outback Steakhouse
- How to convince yourself you are still the underdog
- Why we still freak out about posting videos online
- A lack of ego can be just as a big of a problem as an ego out of control
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Is Ego Really The Enemy?
I think borderline, most people could say we are not experts in anything we’ve ever talked about on this show, except now, they will not be able to say that because we are talking about ego on this episode. I am excited about this one.
It’s going to be an interesting topic. We put a lot of work into the timeframe leading up to this. It took a long time to get the agenda right. The things that we didn’t plan was that I’m on vacation with my family. I’ve got a young family. I’ve got a pregnant wife and a young son. We are staying in a beautiful house right across the street at Fort Lauderdale beach. This is on the ego side. It’s a beautiful place. We tried to record this earlier and the Wi-Fi sucks. It won’t work.
I have an assistant because my other business is not as backwards as this show. I have an executive assistant who was on the case. She worked her butt off and found an office space. She texted me, “I don’t know how good this is going to work out. The customer service isn’t all that high.” Ian was texting me, “Where the hell are you?” I’m driving around a parking lot, I can’t find the elevator. I have to walk through a closed mall. I come upstairs and it’s 100 degrees. The office isn’t ready. We’re an hour late. It’s perfect.
This is the first episode we’ve done as a request from one of our many legions of subscribers. One of them asked us to do a different episode, which we are both very excited about. We immediately said, “Sure. We’re in.” The topic being ego, we want to come at this from two different places because people get the term ego mixed up with egotism. There’s a difference between having a strong ego, which is positive, and being egotistical being an egomaniac sliding over to narcissism.
Egocentric and all of those things.
The definition of ego is a person’s sense of self-importance. That’s all it is. Without ego, you don’t accomplish anything. There’s no confidence, no push, no drive and no competitive fire. You don’t care about your self-importance at all. To say that any successful person has no ego is a lack of understanding of what the word means in the first place. You don’t develop an ego until you get a bit older and you start to feel your self-importance, feel yourself through. You start to see it a bit with 9 and 10-year-olds and they get on sports teams and their confidence, but it develops more into your teens and early twenties, and can keep growing from there. Frank, when was the first time you ever remember thinking about ego?
The first time I ever was confronted with, “I have an ego,” I just graduated college. It was somewhere between 22 and 23. I was dating a girl and her name was Paris. She told me that I had an ego. I remember feeling like I was kicked in the stomach in a way. I had an ego, I thought it was a bad mark against me. We’ve talked about this in the past about I barely got into college. It wasn’t like I set the world on fire with my SAT Verbal. For me, ego, I didn’t know what it meant like she was talking about, but it took me back and I thought it was something that was a black mark against me.
That goes to show what kind of an ego you had. In Frank’s early life, he only dated girls who had city names or state names. You dated a Dallas. I remember you dated an Alabama at one point. Frank cut it off after that. There were no Sarahs or Jennifers in the mix. You needed an impressive name. As we chewed on this a bit to talk about the topic, a name interestingly came out to both of us. When I think of ego, I always think about sports and music, I think of those two in about every context of most of these shows. Many bands have been destroyed when someone in the band or all of them, their sense of self-importance outgrew the band. An obvious one that stuck out to me was David Lee Roth. That was someone that they found in a karaoke bar. Clearly, the secret sauce of Van Halen was the guitar work and the band. You have arguably a top 2 or 3 guitarists of all time, and yet David Lee Roth thought he was the man.
The truth is they could have found any long-haired blonde dude to put in the front of it. After David Lee Roth left, nothing happened with his career. Van Halen kept putting out number one albums for another couple of decades afterward with Sammy Hagar. Sammy Hagar was smart enough to know, “I wouldn’t be that big without these guys. I’m big now.” He kept it in check after. Axl Rose is another one we talked about. One that we brought up was Smashing Pumpkins. Smashing Pumpkins had seven top 10 hits from 1994 to 1998. They kept making music for the next fifteen years, but they only had one after that.
A lot of people critics, they put that on the lead singer who wrote most of the songs, Billy Corgan. He’s on the record of crushing his bandmates for years afterward. One, he had them replaced and brought them back multiple times. He’s quoted as saying, “I wrote all the songs that propelled the band to another level. Even those, they gave me something valuable. If you look back, our 30 best songs were written on my own and not collaboratively. That trumps the argument.” The things he said about his own band members are off-putting for fans who liked the whole band. We didn’t follow Billy. We followed the Smashing Pumpkins. That ego was a downfall for the band in general like many others.Ego is a person's sense of self-importance. Without ego, you don't accomplish anything because there's no confidence, no push, and no drive. Click To Tweet
We’re going to talk about a bit is the back and forth, how much ego do you have to have to start a band? You’ve got to be sure of yourself to start a band. They did a double album, it was incredible. They start off with a piano solo. I remember my buddy ran the gym that we worked out at and I put that album into the disc player in college and everyone’s like, “What the hell?” The first one minute is piano. It’s like grandma came in here and putting piano. They were arrogant and confident, that song completely crushed and sold the entire album, but they started with piano. It’s something that Freddie Mercury would have done, but there’s a harnessing of it and there’s a non-harnessing of it.
When Ian and I got on the Smashing Pumpkins, I was like, “I’ve got to tell a story.” This is incredible. This to us is ego run amok. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia for about seven years. We’ve talked about this before and I’ve mentioned this person in passing, but Dave Matthews Band rose from Charlottesville. The Manager of Dave Matthews and other bands is a gentleman by the name of Coran Capshaw and he ran a huge company called Red Light Management. They do all of Dave Matthews tours. They’re huge in the industry, but there was this dead end at the end of a pedestrian mall. It was this gentleman’s idea to turn into a venue.
His idea was, “We’ll get acts that are traveling between the Northeast and maybe Charlotte or Atlanta, and we’ll get them to pick up an extra show.” I lived there for seven years. I had access to the pavilion, and we saw awesome shows. We went to a couple of shows there together. We brought your son to one. It was either people who were emerging or maybe people who were on the downward slope. People that I saw were Kenny Rogers, Alanis Morissette, Hootie without the Blowfish, before he was a country star, Randy Travis, George Thorogood and even Snoop. Everybody who came through knew what they were doing. They’re playing a like Tuesday or a Wednesday or a Sunday. They were playing their hits. They’re playing to the audience and they are picking up the check.
Smashing Pumpkins would’ve gotten $50,000 grand to play this venue. What they do is they come out and they play 3 or 4 of their best songs. Billy Corgan says, “We’re going to play our new stuff now.” The audience booed. He went bonkers. He starts screaming at the audience and cursing. It’s something we would never do to our readers, but he’s becoming belligerent with the entire audience. They played four great songs and everything else stunk. It was awful. My girlfriend at the time was this neat woman who is polite and kind. She threw something at the stage, she was agitated. It was incredible. They leave and out of morbid curiosity, we’re like, “We’ve got to see what they do for encore.” What they did for an encore is they went backstage, they put on silver kilts and they came out with kazoos. He played kazoos, he wore a silver kilt and he goes, “Fuck you, we’re playing kazoos.” He had a meltdown. I’ve never listened to a Smashing Pumpkins song since a decade ago.
What’s phenomenal about that whole story and everything is we remember always when someone’s ego melts them down. We remember Antonio Brown destroying his career at the end. We remember Axl Rose falling apart. We blamed ego. We said, “Look at that ego.” The other side of that is we know Billy Corgan’s name. We know Antonio Brown’s name. We know Axl Rose’s name. We know David Lee Roth’s name. We know their names because they had strong egos that propelled them to success. If you’re going to blame the ego, you’ve got to give it credit for getting there.
Somewhere in the middle, someone has to recognize that, “What got me here could destroy me. That strong ego drives my work ethic. It drives my hustle, dedication, my focus and my ambition.” It’s like Icarus, you’ve got those wings but when you get a little close to the sun, those wings burn and you’re dead. This is what we’re going to try to get to the heart of is where do you get between your ego helping you win and your ego destroying you?
It isn’t linear. It’s like a stock market graph. It doesn’t go straight up or straight down, it’s jaggy. As you have successes in life, Ian and I talked about this personally, and as we’re going to try and talk about this show, as you gain success, you begin to believe your best footings in a way. You start to form a bigger ego. I have a much bigger ego at 45 than I did at 25. I’ve accomplished a lot more. It’s propelled me to take chances that I wouldn’t have taken. I don’t ever want to have a Billy Corgan moment. Billy Corgan had many of those moments, I don’t want those. It’s how do you balance those two where you’re not afraid to try and achieve, but at the same time, not become a belligerent ass.
I think a lot of that when you talk about youth too, especially when you’re starting a career. I can remember right out of college, I was on the technical sales leadership program. That felt important. That felt like a big deal. I’m on this program. I’m one of the chosen ones, I was hired to be developed to be a future leader of this company. The title made me feel more important than someone who got hired out of college as a sales trainee, even though we were in the same office doing the same thing. You then take a sales representative position and you feel cool for a while that you’re a sales representative, but I sucked. I was 110th out of 110. My ego is not too big being a sales rep as soon as I took it.
You get a management job and you feel good, but you’re not good at it at first. Your ego drives you to get better at those jobs, but it only shows when you get good at it. When you get good at it, then your ego can start to tip the other way. That ego helps you like, “I’m the worst sales representative in this company.” No one is saying like, “Look at Ian’s ego.” I’m hiding, I’m quietly not talking on conference calls, trying to hide under a desk in a big meeting because I’m not selling. When you get good, all of a sudden I’m a top ten representative, my chest is puffed out, I’m bragging a bit, I’m talking smack to the guys at the annual meeting. I’m in that mix. If you don’t have someone that helps you keep it in check or you don’t purposely check yourself, it can start to go the wrong way.
Ian and I are both subscribed to the fact that this is a healthy ego. We agree on this. You may disagree with it. The unhealthy thing to me and I’ve seen this too, and we talked about this in the things that new managers don’t do is you come in there and you puff your chest way before you should. The humility you need to have when you’re either about to be promoted or you’ve recently been promoted, that is not the time to have the ego because you’re vulnerable and you’re not that great, so you have to be honest with that.
I’ve never been accused of having a small ego, you haven’t. Most people would ask you on a scale where’s Ian’s ego, they would say it’s high. As someone who chooses who to promote, as someone who is in a position where I have to put people into leadership roles, there are few things that are more off-putting than someone’s ego getting ahead of their production. It’s an almost sure-fire way from me not to promote you when you start acting better than the people around you, especially that. We want to start this show by talking about, and these are a bit more of the obvious things that most people think of when they think of ego. We talked about five things that we see as negatives that start to creep in when someone starts to get ahead of their press clippings, which is a good way of putting it, Frank. I’ll start with a quote by Henry Courtney, “The bigger a man’s head gets, the easier it is to fill his shoes.” I love that quote, that’s fantastic.
Especially in an organization, there’s not a lot of room for someone who feels like they are more important than the rest of the team, and things that you start to see in someone whose ego is getting out ahead of themselves. The first one is they start to blame everyone else when something doesn’t go well. Every one of these five things leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but I’m going to use a sports analogy because that’s what I do. I’m going to use youth baseball. You see a good pitcher and they’re having a good game and it’s a close game, and a fly ball gets hit and the right fielder drops it. A kid gets a triple and run scores.
You can see it and the kid that has too big of an ego is throwing his hands up looking at the right fielder. He’s barking at them, “What are you doing? That’s an easy out.” What is he saying? What he’s saying is you made me look bad. He’s not mad because we might lose. No one does that to a teammate because they are upset about the team. Usually, when someone acts that way and outs a teammate in front of everyone else and puts blame on it, they’re saying, “I don’t like the way you made me look. You made me look silly and ridiculous. A man in my position cannot be made to look ridiculous.” What they’re saying is, “My stats are more important than the team’s stats, than the team winning. I care more about my own metrics than I care about everything else.” That comes out in an office.
You and IJ are getting in the car and you see a kid do this. What do you say on the ride home?
We do this all the time.
I’m asking you this question because I remember playing Little League, and I remember someone doing something that was embarrassing like this. I remember my dad coming down on me like it was me who did it and making me think like, “That is not something I will tolerate out of you.”
There are two sets of questions that I ask. I start by saying, “How did you think Billy responded when John dropped that fly ball?” I let him talk about it and he’ll say, “I didn’t think it was nice. It made John feel bad.” I’ll say, “If you were on the mound, how would you respond if John would have dropped that? How will you respond the next time? How would it make you feel if it was you that dropped that fly ball and someone yelled at you in front of everyone?” That’s the first series of questions. It’s getting him to vocalize how he felt in the moment to remember it because it’s important at that moment that, anyone, when you’re coaching someone, not just kids, but adults too, how did you feel when you saw someone behave that way?
The second set of questions that I’m more interested in with IJ is, “What did you say to John after he dropped the ball? What did you say to the pitcher who berated your teammate? Did you get his back? Did you walk over to the mound and call time out and say, ‘That wasn’t all right, let’s focus?’ Did you go pat that right fielder on the back afterward and say, ‘We’ll get them. Everyone makes errors, I do too?’ If you didn’t, IJ, why? Why did you just sit and watch him get bullied? That’s your teammate. Your job as a leader on this team is to call out bad behavior and also go pick that kid up every single time because you’re going to make errors too.”
I’m going to use an example where we do a lot of closings with real estate and we can easily blame our title company for things. What I do as a manager and the people who manage outside of the business, what they do is call the accountability back to the sales representative and say, “This is your file. If this isn’t closing, it’s on you.” We can blame other people, but ego is blamed. The right side of ego is accountability. It’s taking accountability. It’s understanding it. If someone makes a bad play and you yell at him and you’re pissed, but 2 or 3 minutes goes by and you pat him on the back, you’re like, “That was a mistake. I’m sorry. I need you. I apologize. I screw up too.” That’s part of the human equation. That’s being normal. Caring is also good but being over caring or going to that side and only going there is where your ego can get you into trouble.
Think about the parents in the stands that are yelling at their kid the whole game or the coach who’s chewing out this kid on the mound who can’t find the strike zone. As you sit and watch that, what is that parent saying inadvertently? What are they doing when they’re yelling? Whose ego is on display?
It’s the parents. It’s not about the kids, it’s about themselves. The kids by and large in youth sports work all the stuff out themselves. It’s the parents that you need to manage. I’m 45 years old. I haven’t played youth sports in decades, but I still remember the parents who showed up that were screaming and yelling. I remember the parents who were drunk. I remember the parents who berated referees or officials or umpires. What’s funny is many years later, you look at some of the things that their kids have done, kids that I played with and it doesn’t age well at all. That’s ego run amok in a lot of that when you go to blame others.
When you see them blaming others, it’s a good sign that their ego is way out ahead of them because what that parents should be saying is, “I haven’t done a good job of working with my kid.” What I normally see from parents that are acting this way, I want to be like, “Play catch with your kid more. It’s not on the kid. It’s not on the coaches. You need to go play catch more. You need to go in the backyard and hit with your son more. Not yell at him for striking out in a game. It’s too late. You did a lousy job of preparing your son. That’s okay if you don’t have the time to spend, but then don’t make them feel terrible during the game because your ego feels like, “It’s my gene, so he should be good at hitting.” No, he shouldn’t. You should’ve spent more time with him. It’s too late to yell at a kid in a game. You didn’t put the work in, that’s on you. Don’t make the kid feel worse.There's no room for someone who feels like they are more important than the rest of the team. Click To Tweet
We’re going to transition into having a superiority or a God complex. I’m going to let you bring this one home, but I want to talk about the first time I remember seeing this. When I was a kid, I started working at the Outback Steakhouse. It was a cool place back then. It was an awesome place. I worked there with Nickel. We got jobs there at 15 and 16 years old. It was awesome. I took a lot of pride in my job there.
Did Nickel get employee of the month more than you or less than you?
He’s going to argue with you that he got it more, but he is wrong. I won Employee of the Year, he never did. It was me.
Back in the day, I could see you sucking up more and getting that award over Nickel.
I was a better worker. We don’t need to disparage, but the point here is, we had a lot of great leaders there. We worked in the Coral Springs Outback, and then we grew up and we moved off to college and we went to the Gainesville Outback. All of our leaders were great people, great men and people we looked up to. They helped define us. Nickel might’ve been gone by this point because he left a few years before I did. I had a boss come in and he referred to everything as his. He’s like, “This is my store. This is my refrigerator. This is my this or my that.” I remember thinking I’ve had a lot of bosses. You’re the first one to come in and call everything yours, and it turned me off. I still worked hard and I still cared, but if that was my first exposure, I probably wouldn’t have cared as much as I had because of the people who came before him that led me. Have you had experience, Ian, where someone takes a lot of possessive over what’s happening?
It’s particularly funny in a big organization. You see mid-level managers who start to believe that they had some role in building the company. This big, publicly-traded company has been around for 50 years and they start saying “My and I and my team” all the time. I’m thinking of a mid-level finance guy that was in my company that every time he would give a presentation, he would talk about my balance sheet and my cash and my controls. You sit there and look and be like, “You didn’t find this company. You’re two down from the CFO. You’ve done nothing other than you balance Excel sheets and accounting and you’re talking about ‘my.’ You never started a company in your life. It’s not your cash. It’s a publicly-traded company. When you’re gone, there will be some other person doing Excel sheets and finishing up the books at the end of the quarter.” It’s funny to hear people saying ‘my’ in big organizations. It’s one thing for you to say ‘My cash’ because that’s literally Frank Cava’s cash. You have loans tied to your house and personal debt. When you say those things, that’s yours. I get it but when you say in a big company, you’re a clown.
This is not the manager that I referenced, but this is someone we work with. They’re now back during college in the ‘90s. This guy was intense. I don’t want to have him come chase after me so I’m not going to say his name. He had what he called his knife, “It’s my knife.” Our boss, the guy’s name was George. This knife became this thing where it started to bring up a lot of angst and people got pissed off at him with his knife. It was called a Lexan. It’s 5 feet long and maybe 1 foot tall and you put potatoes in it. They filled the entire thing up with water and put the knife in it and put it in a walk-in freezer overnight so when he came in the next day, the knife was in a block of ice.
It’s like Jim putting Dwight’s stapler in the Jell-O mold.
This guy is going bonkers. George is like, “Enough.” He’s yelling and cursing. He’s like, “That isn’t your knife. It’s my knife,” the guy who owned the store, the proprietor of the store. George never said that because it was assumed because of leadership that it is his, because we all work for him and his name was above the door. That’s the right time to put your foot down and say something is mine, but in many instances, it’s off-putting.
What I see it also is you hear sales representatives complain up to a manager, “Do you know what this person said to my customer?” It would be like, “Wait a second, your customer? You’re on a team of five people who talked to that customer. It’s our customer. It’s not your customer.” That means I did my job. This person screwed up so I shouldn’t be blamed. Let me protect my ego because I’m doing a great job. You don’t think about a tech company that has a number of engineers, and one of the first engineers is upset that someone who was just hired messed with my code. It’s not your code. We raised money to pay for everyone’s salaries to build investors’ code. That thought process is everywhere in business, where people start to truly believe it’s theirs, their idea, their assets, and it’s not. You work for an organization, unless you are the owner and you have patents and trademarks and you put up the cash yourself, it’s not yours.
I want to close this part of this segment with this. I do own a business. It isn’t ego. It was lack of creativity that led me to put my name on the front door. I try to never say mine and I never try to say I. If there are good things happening, I like to say we. If there are bad things happening, I try and say, “My, I or I screwed this up.” The reason for that is I want other people to take accountability, initiative and to treat things even though I started it as their own because that’s how a business grows. If you’re suffocating people with my’s and I’s, they’re never going to have a chance to embrace their job, make it their own and help you grow.
You don’t need to be an owner to do that, Frank. You want to promote the people that say ‘we’ when it’s going well and say ‘I’ when it goes bad. I love what you said. That should be on everyone’s Post-it Note. Those kinds of people get promoted.
It’s a complete opposite of what happens with the pitcher in this story when he yells at the outfielder. The pro pitcher, the person who we look up to looks at that outfielder and goes, “I’m striking his ass out.” That’s how this all works. It’s part of a body of work. This is a balancing act. Sometimes you need to take responsibility on the good stuff. Sometimes you need to give others that responsibility and you need the balance. It’s not a one stop shop or one size fits all always. The fault is credit goes to other, blame comes to me. If you do that, that’s how you build relationships and that’s how you can keep ego in check and grow.
Number three is shutting down vulnerability. When you see someone who refuses to be vulnerable, refuses to admit to a mistake, to say they screwed up, you know that their ego has gone a little too far for what they’re doing. This goes with tenure too. A new person in a role is usually quick to admit, unless they got a boss that’s mean. Normally, you’re a little faster when you’re early in a role to admit to making a mistake because people expected more of you. The longer you’re in the role, the more you start to think, “I shouldn’t make mistakes or more is expected of me.” You go through these great pains not to admit a mistake. One of the things where I see this happen as an example, new managers or self-conscious managers, a lot of times, they’re slow to admit to a hiring mistake.
Everyone in the office is looking around saying, “That was a bad hire. Why aren’t they doing something about it?” A lot of times, that manager is trying to hide the fact that they made a bad hire because it’s their mistake, it’s their fault. They compound it by letting that person hang around way too long and trying to fix them, whereas in a bit more experienced manager, once you’ve done it long enough, you know that there’s not 100% hit rate on hiring. You don’t always get a good match. You don’t get it right. You learn to hire slow and fire fast and admit, “I got one wrong. That’s not a good fit.” You don’t make the rest of the office suffer because you made a hiring mistake.
A lot of things with ego come down to you think you are more important. You put a higher value on how much time people spend thinking about you. Right here, that’s perfect because you’re not going to fire someone because you’re thinking other people might think you failed or you didn’t do something properly. The tails and the unintended consequences can become detrimental that if you do this, if you’re at the other side, “We screwed up, you got this one wrong.” People see that. There’s a halo effect too around people’s performance. They’re going to hold people accountable. It’s not just Frank’s mistake or Ian’s mistake. This is part of it. It’s ripping the Band-Aid off. If you do a slow rip of that Band-Aid, it’s going to make it worse.
Putting too much value in other people’s opinions, if you make a mistake, do what’s right for the company, do what’s right in general for the customer.
Don’t allow a problem to get compounded because of your inability to look past the end of your own nose.
In a finance business I was in, we had a new leader come in. He was certain that our problems were we had a lack of discipline, so we needed more checklists. He took our checklist that we had from half a page to a twenty-page legal checklist and made the entire company sign off on things. What that turned into was about 40% turnover and we lost some of our absolute best people. A few years later, the checklists were all gone. Almost everything from this big rollout and process had disappeared quietly, but it wasn’t like, “That didn’t work,” and got rid of it in three months. It was slowly, over three years, every month, something else would get taken off, pulled off, moved to where it all got dismantled, but no one ever had to admit it was a dumb idea in the first place. It cost the company millions of dollars and that never got admitted. It slowly went away over time to protect the one person’s ego that rolled it out. That tends to happen in an organization where you keep doing silly things because someone put their name on something. You keep these sacred cows until that person is gone. The next person comes and says, “That was all dumb.” It’s all gone. That’s why it’s healthy to have a bit of turnover in executive ranks every once in a while. The sacred cows go away.
The way to wrap this as we’ve talked that lengthy and personally on the show about not letting one error become two. Don’t turn it into a Little League home run. That’s essentially what’s happening in business. That’s what a Little League homerun looks like in business.
Number four on negatives with the big ego is you start to become dependent on external validation. Someone who’s got their ego in check, they know they’re doing well and they don’t need pats on the back on a regular basis. They know they’re doing it for the right reasons and they don’t need to grab credit from everyone else on the team. It’s interesting when you look within an organization with this type of thing and credit grabbing. I’m going to go back to new managers and why they struggle, because you go from getting all the credit as a top individual contributor to, “You no longer get an award at a meeting. No one says your name at a meeting. You’re the one handing it out. No one pats you on the head and says, ‘good job’ against your peers. You don’t get ranked as often.”
It takes you a while to adapt to that. Some people never adapt to it because their ego needs that external validation. I saw at least myself, the higher up I moved in an organization, the less anyone ever said ‘Good job.’ CEOs don’t say ‘Good job.’ The CEOs doesn’t come by and be like, “You’re doing a great job.” That doesn’t happen. Your great job is your salary, your bonus and your executive stock options. If you’re still working here and getting paid all that loot, that’s a good job, but no one says it. You don’t get that validation.Learn to hire slow and fire fast and admit when you got one wrong. Click To Tweet
I was talking to somebody about this, and I’m living through this right now. For several years I’ve been in business, and for the first nine, I did everything but now I’ve got talented people. I’ve got people who need runway. I have to adjust or I’m going to either thwart their progress or they’re going to leave or we’re not going to grow as a business. I said that in jest to someone like, “I only get credit for bad things now.” My name gets associated with nothing good. It’s a humble a thing, but that’s where we’re going. If I don’t embrace that, it’s going to fall apart.
I’m going to tell a quick story. I got promoted as a mid-twenty-year-old to a job. Our area president came up to me after an awards banquet. I’d already been promoted, but the awards from prior achievements. He said, “Congratulations, you had a good day.” I’m like, “Thank you.” He goes, “Get used to not winning any awards now. That’s over.” That’s exactly what he said to me and I remember that. That was the last time I ever won an award in front of that group, but my award came on March 15th every year when I got a six-figure paycheck for bonus or I got stock options in the mail, or I got promoted to a vice president’s role where I ran another 50 or 75 people. Is there anything you want to add on that, Ian, before I close this on a humorous note?
I do have a quick one that’s funny. We did a president’s club and one regional qualified for it every year. The way it was getting set up, my region was 3X, 4X size of any other region. Every time my region would do well, I would be given a new office. It would expand. I would get a new office and that new office was always broken as hell. It would bring my metrics down. For five years, I kept getting new offices, but never a black or a president’s club trip. I remember I grumbled about it one time because my manager brought it up to me and he was like, “Yes, but you get more stock options every year. Do you want a plaque or do you want more stock options?” Which are worth seven figures over time. I remember that conversation was funny like, “I’ll take the options. I’m okay. Give the plaque to someone else.”
When I was a waiter in high school but mostly college, sometimes you would get a huge tip and you didn’t see it coming, you’re like, “That’s an incredible tip.” You look around for the parking lot to see the people around and say, “Thank you.” I knew I was screwed whenever anyone told me, “You’re the most amazing waiter I’ve ever had.” I called that the verbal tip. It makes you feel good, but you couldn’t pay your rent because you’re getting a 6% tip on the bill. That’s how this stuff goes. I don’t need the verbal tips at this point. Those go to others. I get my awards through achieving through others. I get my awards in other ways. It’s up to me as a business leader and it’s up to you as a manager or a business leader to figure out ways to satisfy yourself where your people get the spotlight.
I’ll cap that by saying, there are two ways to retain people with heaps of praise or heaps of cash. If you need the heaps of praise, you’re probably not making a lot of money, because when you’re making a lot of money, no one’s giving you the other. That’s the way it works. The fifth and last one for the bad side of egotism is a scarcity mindset. Where this comes out is you start to actively root for others to fail, because that relatively makes you look better. Rather than pulling for everyone to win, but winning a little more than them, you get into this scarcity mindset where you’re rooting for others to have a bad month, to have a bad quarter and to not have good metrics so that yours look relatively.
Let’s take president’s club, let’s take some award or bonus that only goes to a handful of offices. What would happen is the strong offices would try to keep a lid on their secrets. What were they doing that was good and they wouldn’t want to share it? They’d be quiet on calls. They wouldn’t want their people to tell people something they were doing or some little hack they had found that was getting results. Ultimately, if you put too much pressure on competition in an organization at any level, this will happen.
If a manager siloes it so much where it’s win-loss everything, what happens is the people that are being pitted against each other stop sharing and stop trying to help each other do well, because what’s the point? Relatively, I want you to do worse because the boss will pay me more, praise me more and do everything else. That can happen with an ego where you stop helping people that need your help. You stop sharing, you stop trying to make the organization better because you want them to look a little worse than you are.
I’m going to take this in a different direction around business ownership. I bet through the business things that you do with others, you’ve probably seen some of this too. Some people get into this thing where they believe that something that’s not that special is special to them. I’m a licensed realtor, and people are like, “I wrote the contract.” No, an attorney wrote that contract. You filled in about nine lines and you probably did six of them wrong. Don’t tell me you wrote the contract.
The other thing that I see in a lot of instances is people will do detriment to themselves because they want to have this scarcity mindset and they don’t want to share, but around the corner of sharing is many things that can help yourself. You’re so worried about not sharing. You’re not open-minded to listening to something that somebody else does. I’m going to give a great example of this. I’ve talked many times about my involvement with the Collective Genius, CG. It’s a mastermind group for real estate investors. I see members do this. They go in there and pound their chest about something they’re doing well, they don’t get nearly as much than someone who comes in and says, “Here’s my share, but this is where I’m vulnerable or this is what’s proprietary and it’s small, but these are the things we’re doing.”
If you give someone huge value and in most of what we do isn’t that proprietary. It comes down to operation and not a patent or something special. If you do share things with a group and someone gets huge value out of it, they seek you out and they say, “I heard you were struggling with this. I figured this out. Can I help you with it?” It’s amazing when you put it into the universe what comes back to you. When you get to a certain point in business, it’s not huge shifts. It’s little calibrated movements to a dial, but those calibrated movements make enormous differences.
Those are all the things that can derail your career. We want to make the case for an ego. Ego is not all bad. You need an ego. We want to make the case for it. You’ve got to know when not to tip, but there’s this myth of the humble servant leader who is completely ego-less.
Ian and I both think that’s shit.
It’s the reason why I call it a myth. There are few billionaires who are not highly opinionated, stubborn, persistent and uber confident. For fun, we tried to list the most famous CEOs that we could think of. They’re probably the same names that whoever’s reading will come up with. It’s Jeff Bezos, Steve jobs, Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and GaryVee.
Cardone and Sabin.
Urban Meyer, Old-school Lee Iacocca, Warren Buffett and Zuckerberg.
Many of you probably don’t know, but he was a CEO of Ford. He was at Boeing before that, his name is Mulally.
These are not ego-less people. These are opinionated people who think highly of themselves who are stubborn as all get out that go against the grain all the time. You think about the things that Jobs did. You think about great inventors like Elon Musk. How many people told them their ideas were crazy? They’re inventing things that have never been done and think about how many people in rooms they would overrule on a daily basis.
If you’ve ever met Ian and me and our wives, we’ve outkicked our coverage, no question, but both Ian and I are convinced that our wives are lucky to be with us. No question.
What’s not to love? A guy that Frank and I are both big fans of, Frank, because he’s a Florida Gator and me, because the way he invests his time in his life is cool is Tim Tebow. He is Heisman Trophy winner. If you follow him on social media, everything is about philanthropy and helping people that are downtrodden. Everything is about not Tim. That’s the farthest thing from ego-less person. Tim Tebow was the quarterback on the Florida Gators, some of the greatest athletes in the country and was the strongest guy in the weight room. It’s not because he came there the strongest, but because he outworked everyone. You don’t do things like that. The ego drove him to outwork everybody in the country to get to that place. He had natural talent, but Tim Tebow’s ego is a big reason why we know his name.
Everybody on scholarship at UF has talent. Everybody on scholarship to play football at a Division 1 school was the best person in their high school and in their county. They were the best, make no mistake. That comes out to self-belief, which is ego, and pushing yourself.
Not everyone loved Tim Tebow. He was with the Denver Broncos and John Elway was the general manager. He couldn’t wait to get rid of him. His quote was, “Tebow is the most self-centered humble guy I’ve ever met,” which is a hilarious quote, but truth is even if you’re spending your time on things that are philanthropic that are for other people, your ego is still driving a lot of the things that happen. That’s a person who’s had tremendous success. I would argue that he’s someone who understands his self-importance and what he can do to help others. His ego drives and contributes to his willpower.
Tebow is a great example, but so too are Mother Teresa or Gandhi. These are people who did incredible things. Both of them were known to be stubborn. They were both willful. Those are synonyms for ego. You don’t achieve things that land you in a history book without some level of ego. Even someone like Tebow who does tons and tons of good. He rubbed a few people the wrong way, including a guy with his enormous ego, John Elway. That’s part of it. My guess is Tebow probably doesn’t spend a lot of time on that piece of feedback because that’s outside of what he’s focused on, which is doing a lot of good and throwing some elbows to make sure that happens.Someone who's got their ego in check know they're good, know they're doing well, and don't need pats on the back on a regular basis. Click To Tweet
Some positives and we’re going to go with four here. Ego contributes to willpower. The simplest thing is why do most people exercise? They want to look better. It’s vanity it. You want to look better. You want to be a little bit healthier, but what makes someone keep running after they’ve hit 3, 4, 5, 6 miles on a treadmill? Running on a treadmill and staring at a wall, it takes willpower to stay on it, to get on it in the first place. That doesn’t happen if you have no ego. If you don’t care about your self-importance, you wouldn’t be on that treadmill. One of the most positive things that an ego gives us is sustaining power to keep grinding, working and pushing in a career if you’re not getting anywhere, to keep trying to solve problems to get better at what you’re doing. Without the ego, that’s not happening.
As you start to become a parent and you get a bit older, you start thinking about health and fitness around, maybe not six pack abs or even being thinner, but I need to live longer to be around these people. Most likely those people aren’t going to need you. It’s about you wanting to see your kids, your grandkids and your great grandkids. That’s all about ego. In addition to that, if you stop what you’re doing career-wise and you start your own business, me and Ian’s done this, the beginning is harrowing. It’s awful. It can be something that is a gut punch, but self-belief and understanding that, “I can get through this. There is something better on the other side. I don’t even know what that looks like yet, but I know that I need to do this,” is a positive of ego.
Why didn’t you quit? You mentioned you went 8, 9 years where you’re doing everything yourself the first 3 or 4 years. You weren’t even giving yourself any salary profit. You’re dumping everything. You weren’t making any money or floating water. What made you not quit?
In retrospect, I have no idea, but in the moment, it was a belief that if I saw this thing through. I grinded and I did it, there was going to be better coming. I knew it because I had a belief. I’ve seen other people that own real estate. I saw other people that own real estate investment companies. I was like, “Those lives look better. That looks more like the life I want to lead than the one where I’m an executive at a publicly traded company.” I could go back that route, but I already know what that other one looks like. I need to keep pushing to see if it is better on the other side.
How much were you impacted though by thinking, “I don’t want to admit to people that I tried this and couldn’t make it happen?” The people I used to work with, I don’t want to go groveling back to that life admitting, “I tried something you didn’t and it didn’t work. I got to come back doing exactly what I did.”
I’m going to go to a sports analogy and I’m going to come back around. The Patriots who is without Tom Brady are having a crap season, but for twenty years they had Tom Brady. Whenever you would see a press conference, they would always talk about how they were the underdog. Urban Meyer is probably the second-best college coach of my life. His team always comes up and says they’re the underdog. It’s all crap. It’s all made up. It’s all make-believe. What I did is I said to myself how embarrassing it would be for me if those people learned I went and got a job. That motivated me. That kept me going, that made me look in the mirror and say, “You can do it. Keep going.”
I don’t think most of the people I use as motivators have any clue that I use them as motivators, nor do they pay that close of attention to what I was doing, but it was a game of mental chess. I set it up because I needed to be better. We haven’t gone into this episode, maybe some point we will, but having a competitor or a target or something to chase is good. Ego allows you to see it out and see it through. Without the ego, you might fold in your tent a bit early.
Number two moves right into that is that ego gives us confidence. Let’s take this show. Frank and I made it 40 years in our life without posting a picture or a video of ourselves online. I just got a Facebook account a few years ago. I just started writing on LinkedIn a few years ago. I had 400 followers on LinkedIn. Those were people that worked at the company I worked at. That was it. I never got on. It takes a lot for me to put myself out there. Doing a show is hard for me. To put a video on LinkedIn of you and I, and you’re my buddy, and to put it out there and ask people to watch it, I’m still uncomfortable with it. My ego is driving me to do that because I want this to work. I want us to do something that impacts people. This is a fun passion project, but without my ego, I would not do that.
What’s fascinating, Frank, is my ego is the only reason I’m doing that, so as yours. Putting ourselves out there, saying we even have a show with a logo, but the other side of it is my ego is also telling me, “Don’t do that. You’ve had success in your life. What are people going to think of you? What’s become of you? What are people going to say that you’re doing a show or you’re posting videos? You used to run a 700-person organization. Now you’re in some executive suite off Maple with Frank at a hotel room posting videos. What are you doing?” What’s fascinating to me about the ego is the ego is the reason why I wouldn’t post it, and it’s also the reason why I’m posting it. It’s a fascinating dichotomy.
The Simpsons came out when I was in 8th or 9th grade, and I’m not a Simpsons watcher anymore, but as a 13, 14-year-old kid, besides Ay Caramba!, which was incredible. The other thing Bart Simpson said back then was, “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” It’s sagely advice. That’s exactly what this is. Ego can be both the devil and the angel on both of your shoulders. You need to know when to listen to which. It’s a tug of war. Where do you want to land? I don’t know where you are as you read this, but everyone deals with this. We know people that are way more successful financially, or other ways than us, they deal with it. We know people who are at our level or people who are struggling to get somewhere. Everyone deals with it, but it’s coming down and getting the fundamentals and allowing it to push you. Right now is the moment to remember, because as we wrap this thing up, once you get on the other side and you get success, don’t become the asshole that nobody ever wants. That’s an important thing to drive towards.
We’re not good enough in this show. Number three for us as disregarding naysayers. We don’t have a troll yet. If you’re reading and you think we suck, we would like to get our first troll that comes around and says, “You suck. You are real losers. We did some homework.” Part of that is anywhere you are, if you have naysayers, you have people that tell you, you can’t do it, how do you ignore those voices? It’s notorious B.I.G saying, “This one is for all the people that told me I’d never amount to nothing.” It’s one of the greatest intros to a song ever. The ego lets you ignore other people’s opinions that are negative, that might think what you’re doing is not impressive or don’t want you to win.
Going back to the Outback Steakhouse, I don’t know if I’ve told this story here or not. I’m a waiter and I’m 21, 22 years old, and this guy comes up to me and he goes, “Son, are you worth $100?” I said, “Sir, I’m worth way more than $100.” I was pissed. I don’t know where that came from. That probably came from my parents. It probably came from my dad telling me do better than that kid on the mound or that kid in the outfield. It came from somewhere. I was afraid I was going to get fired for saying this to this man. Nobody ever heard about it. I remember that moment, “Screw that, $100?” $100 back then was a lot of money, but it was no, I have a higher code than that.
The last one that we had listed for positives of the ego is a willingness and a confidence to make decisions. All the CEOs that I talked about, what made them stick out is they took risk, they made decision and they were willing to live with the ramifications of going against everyone. Both Frank and I have worked for people. I worked for a president who could not make a decision. You had to have an absolute unanimous quorum of everyone agreeing. It had to be such a no-brainer. If not, we’d had endless conference calls and meetings, and we’d have another meeting to discuss it a little further, but he never wanted to make a decision and I could not stand working. He was the nicest guy in the world. Personally, you could hang out with him all I wanted. It drove me nuts because he never would put his name on something and put it out there. That was a lack of ego. He didn’t have enough confidence and belief in himself to be an effective manager.
I’ve worked for people like this and you don’t know where you’re at. You can’t be the best version of yourself because that person’s inability to make a decision causes you to be frozen. It’s not a good place to be. Being uncertain is okay, we talked about this before, but understanding the process, how do you make a decision and that stuff. Also, being the other side of it, making decision too quick. Ian and I did a podcast, the 40/70 Rule. You need to know in these 40, but if you know more than 70, you probably know too much. Make a good decision, adjust, react, keep going.
We’re going to finish up here with five questions you can ask yourself. If you’re wondering if ego is getting in the way of progress in your career where you want to go, these are five questions that you can ask yourself to think through, put a bow around the topics we had. Number one, “Do I want to be somebody special or do something special?” Those are two different things. “Do I want to accomplish or do I want to be known as somebody special? Am I focused on serving me or serving others?” Both of us have seen in our career that when we’ve focused on serving others, we’ve moved a hell of a lot faster than when we focused on serving ourselves.
“Does my ego keep me from taking chances?” That’s the whole thing about quitting a job that paid well to start something new with an uncertain end. “Am I overly concerned with what others think?” In fear of sounding callous, I don’t care. As you get older, that is a comforting thing. I care what Ian, my parents, my siblings, my wife and my son thinks, but outside of that, it’s noise.
Frank proved that on our last episode when he kept wearing that deep V-neck sweater after I told him he looked terrible. He kept it going. You weren’t callous. You said, “No, it’s a good sweater. My sister got it for me.” Number five, “Am I subconsciously rooting for others to fail so that I can look better relatively?” The takeaway on that is it’s an abundant world. Everyone can have a bit. Don’t think in terms of scary.
If you are a riser in your career, people are going to say things about you. People are going to say you have an ego. Everything that we said, the questions you asked, you’re going to get those negatively pointed towards you in some way. You’re also going to have some jerk you work with who is trying to make you look bad so they can look better. Pull yourself to the side, regroup, work around it. It’s a temporary roadblock. We’ve all had to deal with this. We’ve all dealt with people who had jealousy or people who didn’t want to see us succeed. That is where self-belief and a bit of positive ego will help you because you just got to get around it because you will rise past those people.
To summarize this whole thing, you need a healthy bit of ego to be successful. You’ve got to have balance. Having no ego is as bad as having too much ego. Ego is not the enemy. Egotism, narcissism, that’s the enemy. Have some confidence around you that are willing to tell you when it’s sliding to too far, because too far is going to hold you back, but you need enough ego to move forward.
There’s a line from a movie that I love, the movie is Heat. Al Pacino was the police officer and Robert DeNiro is the thief. Robert DeNiro says, “Do I have ‘Born to lose’ tattooed across my forehead?” The police officer goes, “No.” Born to lose is you’re throwing caution. You’re egocentric and egotistical. You’re fueled up on drugs and ego like most people in music, but the balanced side is the other side of that. It’s not doing those crazy things.
Frank, I’m going to practice what we preach in this episode because it’s hard for me to do this. If you’ve read all the way to this point, we would appreciate it if you give us a five-star review and write some comments down. If you think we suck, don’t do that. Don’t write a review. If you stuck around and you liked it and it’s helped you, it would mean a lot of us if gave us a review and it’s hard for me grapple something like this, but my ego is telling me I should do it. I think people have learned enough about egos to move on with their career. It was good seeing you.
Our friend who requested this, this the first request on the show.
We’re taking them and we’re knocking them out quick.