Ego and the Small Business

Here’s a paradox:

It is ego that often launches a successful new business, realising the vision of a single individual or small group and turning into an energetic, fast growth enterprise.

It is also ego that can kill off a struggling business, stopping it from changing, recovering and redefining itself.

Without the strong will, focus and determination of a person, with a very clear picture of the product or service at the heart of their new business, without a strong passion at the heart of the person starting a new project or realising an idea, that enterprise rarely succeeds.

The problem is that not all good ideas succeed in the long run. Two thirds of UK businesses will not survive ten years and about a third won’t make it beyond eighteen months. And when things start to go wrong, the founder’s ego can turn into a kind of disease for the enterprise. The founder refuses to let go of their belief that, having successfully set up this beast, they are the only person who knows what it needs to survive. The founder becomes a kind of ghost, haunting the future of the business with tired old thinking.

Even as the business or project starts to decline, run out of cash, lose customers and clients, the founder refuses to hear advice from others, heeds no warnings, listens to no well intentioned questions or challenges, placing faith in their own “founder’s ego” to sort things out.

It can be very hard to realise and accept that you yourself are now part of the problem, not the solution. Even as the environment around you is changing, you are trapped in a much smaller world, the world of your own thinking, with the same thoughts and recipes, actions and solutions recycling around, some of which may well have started and hastened the current decline.

Ego like this will kill the venture. Openness, listening and humility may just give it a chance.

Listen. You might not be the person who knows the solution to this problem. You might actually be making it worse. You might be sulking and angry with yourself for the mess you are in and have become fixated on you being the only one who can or should solve things. You may have just started behaving like a poltergeist in your own house. The paradox of ego is that, in the form of egoism, it can both kill or cure. It can launch and also bring crashing down. The inventor is not necessarily always the innovator. The dreamer is not necessarily the finisher. Being open to call for help requires the ego to calm and allow what needs to be done to speak louder than “what I think”.

In a conscious business (and, indeed in any process that involves challenge and reflection, such as action learning, or collusion breaking) , you are challenged to stop the ego and open up to the input of fresh minds, fresh questions and thoughts  New ideas, new thoughts, new practical suggestions. New action that could just save your business or project from death. But if your ego gets in the way, you won’t hear what you need to hear. Often the difficult questions, the most uncomfortable suggestions are the ones you will most need to entertain. It requires receptivity. It requires realism. Your ego may well be needed in the future again – sooner than you think – but for the moment, it is the shared ego of the group that might just get you out of this mess.

Being a leader of a conscious business involves:

– accepting and seeking out challenges to your assumptions
– taking the chance to step back and look at your ego and how it might be distorting your view
– tough, humbling questions
– looking for different viewpoints, allowing you to see yourself and your business more clearly and differently

Open up. Listen. Welcome input and suggestions. Let your criticism be objective. You may well be part of the problem – fixed patterns of behaviour, ideas and beliefs that are now out of date even as they served you well at the start. Innovation and rejuvenation will require letting go. Drop the ego, and pick up the future.


Visit our Conscious Business Realm

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