3 Tips to Tame Your Ego When It Threatens Success

UPDATED: June 23, 2023
PUBLISHED: August 3, 2017

When I was about 8 years old, I had this awesome wooden eagle statue in my room that was 2 ½ feet tall. My mom bought it for me, and it was one of my favorite things in the world.

Then one day, I got mad at my parents for some reason I can’t even remember now, stormed into my room, slammed that beautiful thing to the ground and broke it. I remember realizing how lashing out in anger didn’t soothe me; it only made things worse.

I wish I had learned to control my emotions after that one experience, but I didn’t.

Related: 10 Ways Successful People Stay Calm

Many years later, I was working with a client company that made an expensive mistake and couldn’t pay us immediately. No problem; we gave the brand three months. The company stopped responding to my messages and then informed me that it would not be able to pay the bill.

It was the story of the wooden eagle all over again. I was rude to the person who delivered the message, and my emotional outburst prompted heated texts and emails from the CEO. Eventually, we worked out the issues, but we also ended up losing the company’s business when it was back on its feet again—all thanks to my temper.

When Ego Wins

Although we might have needed to end the relationship with that client, my emotional reactions and ego caused more damage than a rational approach.

To me, ego and emotion are closely related. Ego is your idea about yourself, and emotions arise when that identity is challenged. With that client, my image of myself as a winner who doesn’t take any crap was at risk, so I lashed out.

Being logical doesn’t have to kill your identity or self-worth. Swallowing your pride and behaving rationally doesn’t mean bruising your ego or losing all sense of pride. It means looking at the situation from all angles and then taking the action that’s in everyone’s best interest.

Letting ego control your decisions leads to poor decision-making in business. As an outsourced chief marketing officer, for example, my company usually works with businesses that have internal marketing departments. Although we never make decisions without data to back them up, these marketers often carry biases and believe they know best. They try to fight logic because it hurts their egos to find out they’re wrong. Unfortunately, fighting data and logic also hurts their bottom line.

I know from experience that it’s a lot easier said than done, but it is possible to tame your ego and base your decisions on logic with consistent practice and focus.

Here are three ways I’ve learned to rein in my own ego when it threatens to derail negotiations, solid decision-making and important partnerships.

1. Focus on empathy.

Empathy is a buzzy word right now, and for good reason. Leading with empathy will ensure that all your partnerships are win-win. According to the 2016 Strategic Partner Index Survey conducted by the CIO Executive Council and International Data Corporation, more than 70 percent of IT companies spend up to half their budget on outside vendors and service providers. These relationships aren’t merely transactional; they’re partnerships.

Start by putting yourself in your partner’s position.

Remember that success doesn’t look the same for every person or every business. The key is to understand what is needed to ensure every partnership benefits all involved parties. Start by putting yourself in your partner’s position.

For example, after designing an ad campaign for a client, the company wanted to go with ads it had designed. We gave the brand all the data that showed our ads would perform better, but it still didn’t want to use them.

My ego nearly exploded. My first (and worst) instinct was to point out how ridiculous the client was being. The data proved it! But my ego would render the data useless if I lost my temper. Instead, as we calmly started asking questions, it became clear the company wanted us to make a slight tweak to the graphic we had used. By letting go of my frustration and being empathetic to the client’s needs, we opened a dialogue that allowed the client’s representatives to say, “We understand your ad performs better, but that element of the design is off-brand. We need to protect the brand, so it has to be fixed.”

Achieving that logical clarity allowed everyone to keep their heads and we were able to create ads that benefited both parties.

2. Don’t overinflate the ups (or downs).

Being named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 was a huge win that made me feel like I had made it. But 10 seconds later, I had to get back to work. I knew I couldn’t ride those high emotions if I wanted to continue finding success.

It works the other way, too. Although it might be tough to receive constructive feedback, the discomfort is actually your ego wincing. Recognize and accept that you’re feeling irritated, pull yourself out of that fog and begin thinking logically. If your ego is so big that it won’t let you hear criticism, you’ll never improve.

I always check in with myself when making business decisions to ensure I’m not overinflating positive or negative feelings. For instance, do I spend time writing articles like this one because of the egotistical appeal of being published? Or am I doing it because it actually benefits my business and my clients to be a thought leader producing content in my space?

Every once in a while, do things that just feel good and get you excited. But also train yourself to recognize when your response is emotional versus rational.

3. Know what matters (and what doesn’t).

If something goes wrong, ask how you can fix it. We’ve had our fair share of unhappy clients—everyone does. Sometimes it’s due to a bad culture fit, but it’s still important to try to make it right. When it comes to client services, we know one bad experience will reach more people than two good experiences, so we always try to work things out with our clients.

That said, when someone is being completely unreasonable, there’s nothing more we can do. By now, I can tell when it’s my ego talking. Likewise, when I ask leading questions that clients can’t answer, I understand that their egos might have gotten in the way. At that point, it’s often more rational to let a client go than to harm our company further.

Internally, we talk a lot about mean, berating or demeaning clients. It happens, but as I remind my team, it shouldn’t really affect us. We do good work and the proof is in the results. If one client says we suck, why let that get to us when we know it’s untrue?

In both business and in life, the only power circumstances have over you is the power you give them. The key to success lies in taming your ego when those circumstances arise. Reacting rationally from a place of calm and staying humble in your approach to others will get you closer to achieving your goals than any temper tantrum will.

Related: How to Keep Your Ego From Getting the Best of You

Erik Huberman, one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, is founder and CEO of Hawke Media, one of the “Top 50 Startups in LA” and one of the “Top 10 Happy Places to Work.” Hawke Media is a leading outsourced digital CMO agency for companies such as Evite, Bally Total Fitness, Verizon Wireless, Eddie Bauer, Red Bull, and many other large and small brands. Erik and his team provide a full sales, marketing and e-commerce team without the overhead. As a serial entrepreneur and a brand and marketing consultant for eight years, Erik previously founded, grew and sold Swag of the Month and grew Ellie.com’s sales to $1 million in four months. Erik is also available to be a keynote speaker.