At risk of being yet another armchair critic of the goings-on at the cricket in South Africa, I thought it’d be a perfect (yet unfortunate) opportunity to talk about ego. It’s been the enemy and downfall of leaders great and small over the millennia, and appears to be in no danger of being any less of an opponent to greatness in 2018.
There is an invasive desire (and ability) of the media in the 21st century to capture, record and dissect the failings of leaders more so now than any other time in history, so the happenings in Cape Town simply provide us with a more intimate look at how blinding ego can be to leaders – in sports, in business, in families.
Surely it was ego that lead the ‘senior leaders’ of the Australian Cricket team to consider that a combined inspectorate of eagle-eyed viewers, commentators and umpires would not catch their indiscretion? As an random side note on seeing things from a long way away – I read an article recently that described a new space telescope with the ability to shoot images with 40 times more clarity than Hubble. Simply breathtaking stuff. In layman’s terms, this telescope is so powerful it can see right now what you’re thinking tomorrow. Now the outcome of a cricket test has far less importance than seeking clarity on the origins of the universe, but likely has a lot more relevance to the humble earthling, and my roundabout point is that in 2018, we can see everything.
So what does any of this have to do with ego? Imagine the ego, the sheer audacity of a person, or group of persons, to consider this was an appropriate course of action to take, and that they’d never get caught, or if they did, that their status, their influence, their gravitas would see this incident swallowed up by tomorrow’s next Bachelor in Paradise headline.
You hear of petty criminals who rob a bottle shop while still wearing their name tag from work, or make no attempt to cover their faces while staring doe-eyed into the CCTV cameras, and wonder how anyone could possibly be that dim. That’s a different level of dysfunction, and is most likely not a factor in this malaise.
In mid-2017 I read a book called Ego is the enemy by Ryan Holiday which fundamentally shifted my awareness of ego as a part of your leadership characteristic. It’s easy to say “my ego is in check”, or that you’re “really humble”, but if you find yourself saying it aloud to people, it’s likely neither is true.
“I’m the most humble guy in the entire world….”
– Someone who isn’t
There are countless examples throughout history where powerful leaders and influencers were crushed by the trappings of their ego, but you can read about them pretty much everywhere. Google John DeLorean, Howard Hughes, or Ulysses S. Grant for some cautionary tales of how ego torpedoed the fortunes (not just financial) of some truly remarkable individuals. What I wanted to do today was tell you a story, not of a powerful leader or influencer, but from a little closer to home.
Not long ago a set of tender documents came across his desk. A nice meaty package of work that would have seen his business take its virginal steps into directly managing works on the ground. Not something new for him personally, but certainly the first time as a small business owner. This fellow knew enough about the type of work to be dangerous, and his existing relationships with the client and key stakeholders was a definite advantage. Our fellow contacted a close friend of his who works in the same broad field and enquired if he knew of any companies that might like to partner up. He did, and contact was made.
A meeting was scheduled, and after the usual polite pleasantries, the Director and Operations Manager of the second company kicked off by saying they’d struggled to find any information on his business, with no apparent website or company LinkedIn page to be found anywhere.
“That’s right, we don’t need to advertise, we go by word of mouth”
Any alarm bells ringing yet? Our friend continued to regale the two travelling businessmen with stories of the successful work he’d done over the last several years on the particular Project. The relationships forged, the contacts made, and the required skill set to lead the team. Yes – he was the man to lead this team. The director politely listened and made all the obligatory head nods and ‘Oh yes, that’s interesting‘ responses before it was his turn to speak.
“Well we have a different model in mind, where WE lead the team, prepare the submission, and you consult to us.”
It was at this exact moment I’d realised my ego had f**ked me.
I hadn’t even considered they wouldn’t sign up to the plan and had nothing prepared as a response.
Yes, that fellow was me.
“I’d realised my ego had f**ked me”
On reflection, who was I to think that this successful company, several decades in the game, offices in 4 Australian states, would think that after one phone call and a carefully crafted email from a complete stranger, they would willingly hitch their wagon to my horse. That without ANY form of actionable intel, would sign up to me being the lead in a reasonably major contract and potentially expose their business to all levels of unknown risk.
I (my ego) had assumed that simply by force of my own existence that they’d be only too happy to join my posse, that I’d lead the tender, see my company name on the front of the glossy submission, and spend my days writing lists of all the things I planned to do with the money I was going to make.
They had considered (and upon reflection, rightly so), that as the primary provider of the resources, the equipment and cash flow, that’d they’d be better positioned to lead, but would be interested in engaging me as an advisor. Now, certainly not on the scale of international ball-tampering or driving an innovative car company into the ground (refer John DeLorean), but a blow to one’s ego none the less.
My ego had f**ked me.
I’ll admit I think I recovered from the shock of the realisation quite well, and for what it’s worth, the rest of the meeting turned out I believe, to be a success. Regardless of the outcome of the submission, I learned a very valuable lesson – perspective.
Always consider an offer or proposition, be it a business deal or a otherwise, from the other person’s perspective. Throw off the shackles of a usual attempt at this, where you simply consider all the good things that may happen, but dive deep and go dark. What could go wrong (or that they might consider could go wrong), consider why they would want to deal with you at all in the first place, consider how they might even use you for their own nefarious objective. Go Machiavellian.
Nitchske once said “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster” which I paraphrase often and with considerably less grace. I’m not suggesting that you live in the dark space of considering every encounter is likely to result in harm or failure, as you run the risk of it infecting your entire being. Just don’t close yourself off to the potential.
Bill Walsh, legendary coach of the San Francisco 49’ers in the late 70’s took a team so used to losing that it had become their culture, and 3 years later lifted the Super Bowl trophy. Often asked about his plan for winning, he is credited for saying he was not focusing on winning per se, but on implementing a ‘Standard of Performance’. A program of instilling excellence. Simple but exacting standards mattered more than a grand plan of winning, but he knew, he believed, that on that foundation, that the winning would come. It did.
The lesson I learned is that I was so focused on winning, that my own standard of performance had dropped, and that there was room (and need) for significant improvement. The stakes were low I’ll admit, but better learned now, than find myself in the Championship Game with my ego playing for the opposition.
A lesson learned from the every day. Because really, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Did you enjoy today’s post? Has tampering with balls got you all riled up? Have you got an example of where your ego was playing for the other team? Leave a post below – I’d love to hear from you!