Your Number One Enemy in Business

Who would you hire, Donald Trump or Justin Timberlake? Both are making headlines right now, but you probably think it’s a no brainer. The one is a wildly successful billionaire and noted dealmaker; the other an actor and singer with modest business achievements. You may love (or hate) Timberlake’s music and movies, but you’d never want him to be your CMO.

Looking a little closer, however, you’ll notice that they have very different personalities. Aside from The Donald’s hair and his business acumen, what is his most remarkable trait? Probably his ego. And while you may think a big ego is necessary for success, I’m not so sure, as I’ll explain below.

By contrast, what is Timberlake best known for outside of his career? It’s probably making fun of himself. Several times a year, he sings and dances like an idiot to make us laugh. Nobody who continually does things like “Dick in a Box” or “The History of Rap” can take himself all that seriously. Timberlake may be confident in his talent, but he can have fun with it too. After all, he seems to say, it’s just entertainment.

What can we take from this? I’d argue that self-confidence is certainly a good thing and necessary for success. But ego is your enemy—and probably the worst enemy you’ll ever have.

Why? A few reasons.

People with big egos lack curiosity. Remember when The Donald flirted with running for president? Like many businesspeople who dabble in politics, he believed his experience was sufficient for the task. He didn’t know what he didn’t know, and he wasn’t interested in finding out. So he came off badly. By contrast, Mitt Romney realized after losing a senate campaign that you can’t do politics halfway. Your opponents are just too good. So he eventually put his business interests aside, became a fulltime politician, and did remarkably well. Similarly, when Timberlake wanted to be an actor, he shelved his entire recording career for several years to concentrate on it.

People with big egos don’t course-correct. Very often, you have to recognize failure and cut your losses, or you’ll compound your errors until you have nothing left. IBM, for example, was involved in an increasingly commoditized business at the start of the 1990s. It saw the writing on the wall, did a U-turn into providing services, and is still one of the most valuable brands in the world. Kodak, on the other hand, started out in a similar position of strength and rode the camera into its grave. When Trump took up the Birther controversy, he was widely ridiculed. So did he change course? Absolutely not. Instead, he made a big announcement about another conspiracy theory, that of Obama’s college transcripts. The Twitterverse pummeled him.

People with big egos prefer to be right, rather than find solutions. In every company, there is always a group of people who sit around the cafeteria and complain about what’s wrong. But you know they’ll never do anything to make it better. Being right about what’s wrong makes them feel superior, and that’s enough for them. If you don’t have a big ego, you see no value in critiquing something if you can’t work towards a solution. This is a tough one to judge Trump and Timberlake on, but we can see a bit of it in how they respond to scandals. Timberlake took some time but eventually apologized for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” when the uproar wouldn’t die down. Trump does not apologize. Being wrong is alien to his nature, even when it might do him some good.

In other words, there’s a big difference between self-confidence and ego. People with self confidence do not think they know everything. Rather, they trust in their ability to learn and improve. Ego is a false confidence that says that because you’re smart or successful in some area, you are better than other people, and will always succeed for that reason. While Trump is doubtless very successful at his business (and his TV show, where he plays himself), he stumbled badly in politics. Timberlake, rare for a popular musician, developed into a credible acting talent.

How do you beat your ego? It’s an everyday process. The first thing is praise. Don’t listen to it. Next, get curious. Find out what you don’t know and where you need to improve. Someone’s always better than you are, and once you get used to the idea that you’re not the best, you’ll be on the road to getting better. Finally, learn to laugh at yourself, especially about the things most central to your identity. Find your inner, er, dick in a box and run with it.

So who would we hire, The Donald or Justin Timberlake? It would depend. Certainly Trump in anything he’s already good at. But Timberlake might be a better bet if the job is something neither of them knows anything about. My guess is that he would be much more likely to dig in and learn what he needs to know to succeed at the new task.

Who would you hire? Let us know, and why.

Read the original post on LinkedIn.

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