For the first few years after receiving my bachelor’s degree I worked for American Express Financial Advisors. A leader that I looked up to there once told me a story; If you are driving to the store to get some milk and the car next to you cuts you off and then the driver flips you the bird you will have two choices. You can engage with them, flipping them the bird back and no telling where it will lead, or you can continue your mission to get your milk. If you let your emotions get to you and engage with them then they win…regardless of outcome. You may not accomplish your main goal of getting milk and at the very least, you will lose attention and focus on your mission.
Willink and Babin can probably tell a similar story but I am sure the consequences would be greater. Losing a life greater. Throughout the book they give countless reasonings and examples of how ego can cause interference with their and/or their teams objectives and mission. Willink states that “Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. It can even stifle someone’s sense of self-preservation. Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.” Ego brings in varying degrees of different emotions that keeps our focus from the mission, even when we do not realize it does. Ego can make you mad and angry because someone told you something you didn’t want to hear. Ego can make you embarrassed to ask a question because you are afraid to show you don’t know the answer. Ego can make you want to impress someone. Ego can also cause rampant issues in our self-image and cause insecurities or self-doubt.
Admittedly, I have ego problems and it has been the biggest hold back in my career. I used to think it was an anger issue or over-competitiveness and in a lot of ways I found myself being proud of it. It continues to take a lot of self-realization and honesty that much of it is the fear of being wrong, embarrassment of failing in front of others, and in many cases overconfidence that did not match my skill level. I have missed the opportunity to learn from a lot of smart people because I was not listening; either writing off what they were telling me or looking for ways to make them believe that I was right. Losing the inability to listen and learn is a common theme with those who recognize problems with ego.
John Rampton, VIP Contributor for Entrepreneur magazine tells of how ego “destroyed” his business and he owns it by admitting that it was 100% him. In his article “8 Ways My Ego Killed My Business,” he in-depth goes into the 8 way that he contributes to ego destroying his business. I find them to be very similar to the reasons that Willink and Babin give in Extreme Ownership.
Rampton lists them as…
1- “My ego wouldn’t recognize how much I needed to learn.”
2- “Made me ignore opportunities.”
3- “I over-estimated my abilities.”
4- “I micromanaged.”
5- “My ego wouldn’t let me ask for help.”
6- “Every decision revolved around me.”
7- “I couldn’t back down, I had to ‘win.”
8- “I set impossible goals.”
I think it’s easy for us to discount our ego. It’s a good thing to set very lofty goals, right? If I own my own business, shouldn’t I micromanage if I want? It’s certainly possible for us to know even know its ego holding us back. Once we become better in recognizing ego and how it holds us back, it doesn’t mean that we must be perfect. Well…maybe in the Navy Seal world we should be but in business we are all just trying to become better and stronger each day. We should also recognize that ego is what gives us self-confidence and makes us take risks and venture into owning our own businesses anyway.
Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme ownership: How US Navy SEALs lead and win: St. Martin’s Press.
Rampton, J. (2016, July 12th). 8 Ways My Ego Killed My Business. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/278901 .