Leaving Your Ego Behind
Shawn Thomas (pictured) is CEO and co-founder of Uniguest. E-mail Shawn [email protected].
I recently read a quote from the mfounder of Patagonia that stuck with me. Yvon Chouinard said, “All entrepreneurs are juvenile mdelinquents who say, ‘I’ll do it my own way.’” The reason I remember this saying is because it rings so true. As entrepreneurs, we all have that mindset. It’s what drives us and allows us to dream big. Where would we be, after all, if Thomas Edison didn’t think, “I’m sick of the dark”?
When you think about it, the emotion that makes you start a business is the same one that can cause you to fail. As entrepreneurs, we’re full of pride and, admittedly, a bit egocentric. Naturally, it can be difficult for us to give up control within our business. It’s also hard for us to leave our egos behind and admit that sometimes, we may not have all the answers. I learned that lesson the hard way, and it almost cost me the respect of my staff.
When I started my technology business in 2002, I was responsible for no one but myself. By the time I merged with another company in 2009, my business employed 23 people, and most of that staff growth was recent. Though the merger was a success on paper, I faced the unusual challenge of having to meld two completely different business cultures— employees of a newer company with a younger workforce in the middle of its high-growth phase, and those from a stable, 25-year-old company with an established, more mature workforce.
The biggest challenge in blending the two cultures was ensuring that every staff member was kept in the loop throughout the process. To do this, we formed leadership teams made up of staffers from both companies. Our president and I would meet with the team members and update them on what was going on in the company. These team members would then disseminate the information throughout their departments. Communication during the transition phase was vital. We wanted everyone to know how their jobs were being affected.
Another lesson I learned was that it’s all right to lean on new leadership during turbulent times. Recently, to help facilitate another acquisition, we invested in a seasoned executive who took on the position of COO. He had experience balancing the revenue of the company with expenses like payroll. Having someone who could dive deep to understand job descriptions in order to match the right person with the right role is crucial, and it helped us track employee engagement. At times, however, I let my emotional attachment to an employee prevent me from making a change, whether it was a promotion or termination. By giving some of my responsibilities to the COO, he was able to step in and maintain order for the benefit of the company.
Above all, I learned how important it is to let go of my ego, especially during times of transition. Shortly after our first business transaction, we purchased a local digital signage company and hired the founder to head the newly created division. He was a young entrepreneur full of zest, but it was a mistake thinking he could fit into a larger company environment. He was not used to the rules, processes and bureaucracy of a bigger business, and he quickly lost his passion. This hire cost the company dearly in time, deployment of new products and staff additions.
Instead of relying on the experience of a hiring firm or a board of advisors, I thought I could manage the situation on my own. After all, I was a business owner with years of experience! In hindsight, it would have served both my business and me better if I swallowed my pride and got help to handle the situation. The money I saved by trying to go at it alone probably cost me more than any firm fees I would have paid, and each mistake I made as CEO cost me the trust of my team. By putting my ego in check, understanding my limitations and hiring an expert to manage the situation, we were able to get back on track.
Looking back, removing my ego from the equation was just oneof my many “a-ha” moments I’ve had. Throughout the mergers, I discovered that successful entrepreneurs are those who learn when to intervene and when to rely on the help of others. Asking for assistance doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re committed to the success of your business, regardless of the method. Speaking from experience, it’s the only way to move forward.