My wife believes that confidence is quiet.
“If you’ve got a Ferrari,” she says, “you don’t have to rev your engine for people to know. They just know.”
Ego can be a tough thing to navigate. We’ve all got one, and it’s natural for it to pop up and want to take the wheel. Our primal instincts push us to add value to any community, but we can get confused and conflate value with ego. I’ve met a lot of impressive people in my life, including Ryan Holiday. In Holiday’s book, Ego Is the Enemy, he states, “Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.” There is a common thread among all of the most impressive people: They put their ego in the backseat of the car.
There’s a big red flag that tells me when ego is the driver, and that’s when someone prioritizes being right over getting shit done. Nobody loves to be wrong. I don’t. But building a business is humbling, and if I did one burpee for every time that I’ve been wrong I’d be breaking world records. I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to build a global empire, I was going to have to let go of being right and listen to teammates that had alternative (and better) solutions.
Ego Levels Can Make or Break a Business
Initially, my vision for Spartan was comparable to the Death Race. I wanted people to be suffering, struggling, and battling to the finish. I didn’t want to produce something that was appealing to most people, but instead to a special few. I thought most people would want to push themselves to the edge like I had. My team, however, knew better and pushed for a more engaging race that wasn’t quite as torturous, but still a challenge. And they were right. The Spartan Sprints, Stadions, and Supers appealed to more people. I was wrong. Letting go of being right allowed us to grow, reach more people, and develop one of our flagship experiences — the Spartan Trifecta. If I hadn’t shut up and prioritized building over being right, we’d all still be at the farm.
One of the hardest things to say is, “Yeah, I got that wrong.” It can feel vulnerable, like we are opening ourselves up to criticism. The truth is, being wrong is part of the game. The most successful teams make room for mistakes and failures. They don’t dwell on what went wrong or avoid apologies. They own the f*** up, put their heads down, and do what is necessary to create success. They value we over me.
Dr. L, Spartan's Chief Mind Doc, says, “True wellness of any company is found in the WE. The illness is found in the I.” I see this every day at Spartan. When we prioritize the overall mission and work together, we get more shit done than when we are compartmentalized in our own silos. This shows up in our team events as well — the Hurricane Heat and Agoge are perfect examples. When individuals put aside their desire to be the star and come together for the common goal of completing tasks, the success rate skyrockets.
So how do you set aside your ego? Here are four strategies that can help.
How to Keep Your Ego in Check
Remember the Mission.
At Spartan, I want to transform 100 million lives. So I always ask myself, "Will this move the needle in changing those lives?" If not — even if it’s my idea — it’s scratched. Hold up the mission and choose execution over ego.
Tune in to Your Own Bullshit.
The very first rule in my new book, 10 Rules for Resilience: Mental Toughness for Families, is "Commit to No Bullshit." It’s all about recognizing the excuses you tell yourself that hold you back from getting shit done. You’ve got to be aware of your own thoughts in order to change. So pause, tune into your own thoughts (and ego), and shift away from the idea that you have to be right.
Role Model Making Mistakes and Owning Them.
I make mistakes all of the time. So what? Big f****** deal. It was a lot harder to say that 20 years ago, but I’ve had lots of practice. I’ve learned that being able to say that gives my ego less power and models for my team that mistakes are no big deal. If anything, they’re necessary to figure out what works.
Work on Your Listening Skills.
If you’re always thinking about what you’re going to say next or what you can add into the conversation, you aren’t listening. Practice listening in meetings or with the people you care about. This will naturally shift you away from always focusing on yourself.
Ego is absolutely the enemy. Ryan Holiday nailed it. Some of the most successful people have been crushed by their own ego. And many companies that we never thought would fall — Blockbuster, Toys "R" Us — they perished because their ego prevented them from pivoting before it was too late. Put your ego aside, focus on the mission, and let’s go.