Ego and confidence. You can’t have one without the other, right? And you need both to be a success in business (and in life), right? Wrong.

Many of us fall for the popular misconception that essentially ego and confidence boil down to the same thing. They are in fact polar opposites. What’s more, one can help you enjoy success, and the other can see you press the self-destruct button.

Now hold on a minute. I’m not saying that you need to choose one over the other. On the contrary, you will need a measure of both to succeed in any startup and/or entrepreneurial ecosystem. There’s no doubt about that.

The important thing is to distinguish between the two, so you don’t indulge in self-sabotage.

Where egos dare

To succeed as an entrepreneur or business owner, we hear constantly that we must be bold, brazen even. The image of the unflappable, pushy, and egotistical startup CEO is a powerful one. Even us “normal’ employees often hear that we need to adopt such an attitude at work. So we can get that promotion, and progress.

But is that true? I believe it’s a myth. You may laugh (that’s allowed by the way), but I think we can learn a lot from the legendary 80s movie Top Gun. No, really I do. I mean it’s the perfect example. Bear with me. What was it Maverick’s commander on the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier Tom “Stinger” Jardian says? “Son your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash!

That’s it right there. If you break down the key parts of the movie and see where Maverick’s ego-fuelled behavior gets him. In trouble with authorities, failing (initially) to get the girl, and most importantly, it costs his best friend Goose, his navigator partner, his life.

In contrast, his confidence in his abilities (along with his calmness) though, helps him to bring a stricken and panicking pilot back to base. Not only that, but that same confidence helps him to get back into the fight in the final battle scene and help save lives. Then on to be an instructor at Top Gun.

Mind blowing, right?

And this mirrors reality. Confidence and ego as concepts are quite different. Just like Mavreick, having confidence means having faith in your own abilities and believing in yourself. The ego side is not like this. Unlike confidence, your ego operates chiefly out of self-interest. Your ego seeks approval, praise, and validation at all costs. It pushes back against constructive feedback. Your ego has the need to feel “right”. You feeling right, however, in both business and life, does not mean the road to success.

Tap into your confidence, channel your ego

So then, what’s the secret to avoiding the fine art of self-destruction to keep your startup on track? Or for keeping hold of your job in any company for that matter. It’s as easy as the subtitle above.

Put yourself second, your business first

You have to stop making everything about you. If you always feel the need to be right, try to reign this in. It is this very desire for recognition and credit that’s stopping you from helping your business achieve its goals. Keep focused on the next coming milestones.

Get rid of your defensive default mentality

Going straight on the defense never works in your favor. Why utter the first — often defensive or negative — thing that comes to you “naturally”, just stop. Take a few breaths. Be more neutral and respond with a “that’s an interesting take on it”, or a “that’s great to know”. It may seen unnatural for you but psychologist swear that the best decisions are made when we have a more balanced, neutral mindset mode on. This helps you to meet change or something unexpected with an open mind, instead of outright rejection or resistance. And this can only help in guiding you to your next steps in your business.

Don’t judge

It can be very easy — and tempting — to recline in your chair and simply pour cold water on someone else’s ideas or strategy. Of course, you need to look for weaknesses (hello SWOT analysis) and potential points of failure, but don’t make that your priority. In other words, don’t be too fast to judge. Offer your expertise instead! do what you can to help improve it and mitigate risk rather than making it worse. You may not have been consulted or had the opportunity to weigh in initially, but that’s no reason to withhold information or insight that could make the plan better. Giving your time and talent freely and without reserve or judgment will make you highly marketable and valuable to your organization.

Focus on results and learning

Or better still drive for results-based learning! Because at teh end of the day, things will not go to plan. And you have to prepare yourself for that and self-manage, er, yourself. When things go pear-shaped, the point is not who is to blame. Pointing fingers, and/or digging your heels in at a certain point is simply not productive. Try to look at how you can learn — and what you can learn- from setbacks. In this way, rough patches that you experience will serve as important teachable moments which will help you to design a better approach so you can improve results in the future.

Epilogue

There are of course a few more adjustments you can make to your behavior and approach to make sure you don’t hinder your startup’s progress. But the above should act a your top four ‘commandments” to keep you on the straight and narrow. Because the key difference between confidence and ego as we’ve seen is simple: tapping into your confidence will only get you ahead, while the only thing your ego will do is put the brakes on your progress. Know the difference between the two. That way, it will be high fives all round — just like Maverick and Goose.

A version of this article was originally published at www.starttech.vc on May 17, 2018.



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