Sometimes a Little Ego Goes a Long Way
Inspired by Jim Collins’ Good to Great, authors David Marcum and Steven Smith originally set out to show that ego is a negative asset and needs to be eliminated from companies. Instead, they found that ego can in fact drive a business to its greatest achievements –– if kept in check.
The duo spent five years writing this book, pouring through scholarly research, finding plenty of real-life examples of business leaders who have lived –– and sometimes died –– by their egos. The result is Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability) a book that hopes to show business people how an ego kept under control can be their best asset. Drawing on examples as varied as Sojourner Truth to Fred Rogers to Steve Jobs, Egonomics sets up an outline that tries to define the balance that exists between ego and humility.
Look for the Signs
There are four early-warning signs that an ego is becoming a person’s downfall, the authors contend. First there’s competition, in which trying to always be on top makes you less powerful. The second sign is defensiveness, which makes you unable to listen to other people’s suggestions because you’re too focused on your own.
The third early warning sign is showing too much brilliance –– the necessity of bowling people over with your own greatness. A self-centered belief in your own intelligence ends up pushing people away from what otherwise might be a great idea. The final sign to look for is acceptance. In an attempt to gain people’s respect, you can go too far and become powerless under the desire to be accepted. Wanting praise and recognition often defeats your own power to succeed.
Applying the Principles
Once the problems with ego are recognized, the challenge for most successful business people is to keep their ego healthy. Marcum and Smith recommend three principles for developing a strong yet reasonable ego: humility, curiosity and veracity.
The authors define humility as self-respect, or the thing that keeps people from thinking too much or too little of themselves. Humility reminds us of the good things we have done, while also noting that we are far from perfect. This feeling allows us to be a little cocky while allowing others to critique our work when needed.
Curiosity is that little spark inside us that makes us want to know more about a subject, even if we’re already an expert. The authors point to Sir Richard Branson as a great example of curiosity: When he’s on the Virgin Airlines flight, Branson will jump up to talk to anyone on board about what they think about their experience on his airline.
Veracity is the simple pursuit of the truth. And in business terms that means the pursuit of reality, the authors write. Many CEOs only want to hear the truth as they see it, or they want to hear their own theories parroted back to them. This is ego in its worst form, Marcum and Smith believe. Instead, they ask readers to be open to people’s candor and point of views.
Each chapter dives into its subject completely and offers many examples of the issue at hand. They also end with “key points,” which outline the chapter through a series of bulleted items that make for an excellent review of the subject matter. Egonomics may not be light bedtime reading, but the work of Marcum and Smith is interesting enough to make even a night of introspection a worthy task.