When is Ego a Dirty Word

What is ‘ego’ and is it good or bad? Altitude Advisory Director, Andrew Mattner explains how most entrepreneurs and business owners have big egos, but when it is considered a dirty word in business.

When is Ego A Dirty Word?

In July 1975 Australian cult band The Skyhooks released the single and album “Ego Is Not a Dirty Word”.  I remember the video clips of Shirley Strachan and Red Symons dressed in their crazy gear, belting out lyrics like “If I did not have an ego I would not be here tonight” and “If you did not have an ego you might not care the way you dressed”.

What is ego?

The reality is that everyone has an ego.  Some have bigger egos than others, and that’s ok.  The truth is that most entrepreneurs and business owners have big egos. In its simplest form, someone’s ego is their self-esteem.  In my experience entrepreneurs and business owners have a high level of self-esteem.  They have to because the business of owning and running a business is hard.  It can be brutally hard. And without strong self-confidence, it can chew you up and spit you out.

So, a well-managed but healthy ego is important.

When is it bad?

But when does ego become a dirty word in business?  The simple answer for me is when a person crosses the line between running a business to achieve its core purpose and running a business to massage their personal status.  This massaging can take various forms.  It can be in the form of seeking personal recognition for good work, it can be politicising, it can be poor ethical choices that compromise staff, customers or suppliers – all for the financial benefit of the owner.

The North Star

The core purpose of a business is the reason it exists.  It’s the North Star of an organisation and it’s the reason people buy goods and services from you. It’s the reason staff volunteer to work for you, the reason they join your club or donate their time and money.  They never do these things so that you can win an award, be acknowledged in the newspaper, drive a fancy car or have a big house.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many businesses that will never reach their full potential or deliver maximum value to their customers, staff or community due to the unhealthy egos of the business owners or directors.  Without fail, these organisations continually trip over themselves, stumbling from crisis to crisis, seemingly forever in management disputes or legal quarrels.

Having more

The most successful business owners I know DO have a healthy ego that is aligned with the core purpose of their business.  As a result, they will always have more (more time, more happiness, more things, more relationships) than those that have a dirty ego.