Why your ego could be hurting your business

Image Credit: Austin Distel on Unsplash

When you think about the traits of a successful person, you think of someone who is confident, hardworking, intelligent, strategic, and someone who can generate high returns. While they might possess qualities that are great for business, just because someone is successful doesn’t make them a great leader. 

There is a difference between having a senior position within a company and being a great leader. For some, it may be a lack of people skills or an inability to deliver constructive feedback. For others, it may be their ego. Having an ego can not only stop you from being successful, but it can also hold your business back.

Some individuals see their leadership and success tied a six-figure salary, being ‘hands-off’, and a large office separated from the workforce. For me, leading by example is a big part of how I mentor and lead my teams. I always try to show that I have their back, and for me, nothing represents this more than sitting next to them in an open-plan office and them knowing that I’m not too important to do the little things that I ask them to do daily. 

The power of an open-plan office

All of my businesses are set up in an open plan. That way, the business leaders – including myself – can be directly involved in the team’s daily work. Everyone can overhear my phone calls and see what I’m doing during the day – and no, I don’t consider that a drawback. It allows my team to pick up tips on how to talk to potential leads, resolve issues and structure their day – without me having to sit down and formally train them. Conversely, it also means I can hear their calls and offer helpful tips and advice as they go. 

Being in and around my teams means I can also quickly identify any developing structural or cultural issues and get them under control. It makes me as accountable as I make them. I can’t get away with doing one thing and saying another or refusing to own my mistakes because they’re going to call me out on it every time.

It’s also an opportunity for me to keep growing. I don’t pretend to know everything about everything we do. Because our hiring is extremely selective, I know I can learn a lot from my team just by listening to them. That doesn’t happen if I’m in a corner office with the door closed.

“The risk in setting yourself above everyone else is that you’re seen to be sitting in an ivory tower, not so much a leader as a figurehead.”

This openness and leading by example isn’t something afforded to employees in many businesses, though, with some bosses advocating for a distance between themselves and their day-to-day operations. Maybe it is to create the space for bigger-picture thinking and discussions to occur – or perhaps they want to skip the dirty work or avoid accountability. The risk in setting yourself above everyone else is that you’re seen to be sitting in an ivory tower, not so much a leader as a figurehead.

Connecting with people as a business owner

Recently, I shared a post on LinkedIn about how I like to set up the desk for any new local hires that come to work with my companies. I typically post a few times a week on LinkedIn, and they tend to get good traction, but this one has had an incredible cut-through.

Maybe it was the accompanying photo showing me setting up a monitor and cabling on an empty desk two days before a new staffer was due to arrive. Perhaps it was the post itself, in which I talked about one-percenters being just as important as the big things in setting a great office culture. Or maybe it was the packed goodie bag I like to give new arrivals (who wouldn’t want a theragun massager?).

Whatever it was, it connected with many people, and it got me thinking about the impact of egos in fast-paced businesses that are constantly growing and evolving, like the ones I run.

Dropping the ego is good for business 

If this open leadership style is what you want for your business and team, you need to be ready to go all-in and be on the ground working next to them. Be open-minded, receptive to new ideas and available. Get involved – show by your actions that you’re not too important to pick up the phone and make a cold call, not above the rest of the team and set up at the next team lunch order, and not afraid to admit you’re human and make mistakes, too.

Being a good leader takes guts, commitment and real care for your people. Checking my ego at the door has been the right move for my businesses, ever since I dropped out of uni and started my first agency from my bedroom with just $350 in my pocket.

Along the way, I’ve learned from my mistakes and made sure everyone else around me does too. Even now, running a network of digital agencies all over the world, I’m in the trenches with my teams every day, growing ourselves and growing the business. To me, that’s the key differentiator between a business owner and a leader. 


Read more: Why your mentor doesn’t need to be a CEO

Read more: Let’s talk: What leadership styles work best in SME owners?


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By Nick Bell

Nick Bell is a five x AFR young rich-lister and founder of 12 global digital agencies including First Page Digital, Lisnic and Removify.