{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Do You Need Ego To Be Successful?

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Do You Need Ego To Be Successful?

In this episode, Katie and Chris tackle a question from a recent conference. An agency CEO asked whether or not a leader needed ego to be successful, particularly when they observed their competitors being bold and brash and also being more successful. Dig into our answers and find out whether ego is a help or a hindrance to your business success.


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Do You Need Ego To Be Successful?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn 0:16

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, let’s talk about whether ego is needed to succeed for some context at the recent Agorapulse agency Summit.

During one of the sessions, one of the attendees said they were wondering how important this was the person in question was a female agency CEO, and she was comparing herself to her male counterparts and all their in her words, bluffing and bluster.

She was wondering whether you needed that big ego to succeed, because from her point of view, her counterparts and their agencies were more successful in successful meeting revenue and clients, you know, bigger name clients, bigger retainers, etc.

So Katie, what do you think about this? How would you how would you answer this person’s question?

Katie Robbert 1:07

Gosh, that is such a, it’s a tough, like, it should be an easy question.

So the easy answer should be, no, it’s all bullshit.

And you can see through the disingenuousness of these people.

But the real answer is, you know, there are certain people, you know, with a, with a tendency to be, you know, White Men of a certain age, who are more pompous, more aggressive, more overconfident, which comes across with that big ego, which then translate into Zeus to success, because they attract similar like minded humans who happen to be in those decision making positions.

Now, here’s the thing, those positions will eventually be turned over, you know, whether it’s this year or 10 years from now, I do strongly believe that we will see a shift in the type of diversity we see in those power positions in those decision making positions.

So while there will always be a certain level of overconfidence, you know, filling the air, filling the room with air, not really saying anything, individuals who are seemingly successful, they will be you know, displaced, they will be put out of power.

So I guess the, the complicated answer of Do you need ego to be successful? Is it it depends on who your audiences, it depends on who it is that you’re trying to get a decision from.

I mean, Chris, you and I present ourselves very differently.

We’re just different people in general.

You know, and so even this morning, you know, we were talking about something and the way in which you said, you know, something to me, you know, just put it in the calendar.

I know you well enough to know that you were making a suggestion, but someone who doesn’t know you would have seen that as aggressive and forceful.

So I made a joke back like, Yes, sir.

Right away, knowing like, acknowledging like, yeah, it can definitely be done.

You know, and so, it’s, it’s such a complicated question, Chris, what is your thought on it? Because I could rant and rave about men versus women in power positions, but you being a man are going to obviously have a different perspective than me.

Christopher Penn 3:31

I think and this is something we’ve talked about the past, I don’t think ego is the correct word.

There’s two personality traits, one of which is confidence.

And I do believe you need confidence, self confidence to be successful.

I believe that wholeheartedly.

Arrogance is when you have confidence that is unfounded, that there’s no justification for having that level of confidence.

But when it comes to ego, one of the things I heard that was so insightful.

I was listening to a former top gun instructor being interviewed actually about one of the new movies, but he was saying, when ego is one of the most dangerous things in a pilot in a fighter pilot, because you said, it’s not that they get brash, or they do stupid things is because ego forces you to stop listening.

And the moment you stop listening, you are no longer teachable.

And that makes you dangerous, because you’re you stop learning.

And so to the answer this question, ego is dangerous to success.

Because if you come into that, with that perspective of I know this thing, you’ve turned off listening, you’ve turned off learning, and you’re going to get ambushed, right? Part of what you were saying about those positions turning over is the the natural habit.

If you have that ego that shuts you off from learning, you’re going to get blindsided and you’re and you and your organization I’m going to take a hit.

Because you didn’t see Snapchat coming or Tiktok coming or NF T’s coming.

You didn’t see it because you you were refusing to listen.

He’s like, I know what’s right.

And you didn’t.

So to me egos very, very dangerous in this morning and analytics for marketers.

I was poking fun at myself like, hey, look, here’s a here’s a wild success with Network Graphics.

It was not it was a miserable failure, but in the hopes that perhaps someone else will look at that and come and go, Oh, well, here’s what you’re doing wrong.

So the opposite is being willing to say, Yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing with this thing.

Can anyone help me, I want to listen, I want to learn, I want to grow and become more capable.

So I’d be very, very wary of any CEO, whose ego is so strong that they couldn’t learn anymore.

Katie Robbert 5:51

Well, and I think you hit upon the two major components that we really should be talking about, which is that self confidence and the arrogance, but really, the third one being that self awareness.

And I feel like those are the three traits that we really want to be focusing on.

And so would that arrogance, I mean, I’ve, I’ve been in my fair share of meetings and you know, pitches with someone, regardless of gender, who will walk in and assume that they’ve already closed the sale, that they’ve already won the conversation, the argument that they’ve already won over the audience, without even considering, hey, I might have a question for you.

Or I might have a concern about the thing that you’re telling me.

And there’s this.

Basically, this is the wrong way of thinking.

There is this misconception that you need to walk into a room and own it and know everything.

And I feel like those days are really starting to be something of the past because marketers now people who make decisions now humans now are looking for someone who’s more empathetic, someone who’s more open, as you say, Chris, to learning to being questioned, versus that dictator, who’s just gonna say, I know everything, you don’t have to question it, don’t worry, you can trust me blindly.

And you know, that still works in some situations, but it’s becoming less and less of a strategy that’s going to be effective.

And so that arrogance, that overconfidence, you’re right, absolutely right, it is dangerous, because you can see, it may not be an immediate consequence, but it’s not sustainable.

And when it starts to break down, and people start to see through all of this bravado, and essentially, these, you know, falsehoods that you’ve told, all of your credibility is out the window.

Christopher Penn 7:56

All your credibility is out the window to but also in a sales sense.

If you’re not listening, you’re not making money, right? I have lost track of the number of clients that we have one, because we went into the sales input call with a so what do you need help with not, hey, you can buy this, you could buy this, and this is for sale.

And here’s the list of what we’ve got for sale.

And finding out two minutes into the conversation that what the client thought they needed was, in fact, not what they needed, what they needed was something much bigger, much more valuable to them much more than something they’d be more willing to invest in.

And so therefore more valuable to us.

But coming in with that sense of, I would call it a quiet confidence, whatever they say, there’s a good chance that we can help them with it, or point them to a partner that can what they gotta say it first.

So you got to pull back on your ego, turn it, turn it down, so that you can listen.

And you can say, Oh, well, here’s, here’s what’s happening.

You know, I wouldn’t even call it necessarily empathy.

I mean, it is technically empathy in but it’s it’s just common sense.

Listen, first, to see what the person has to say, because they may have more things and more valuable things.

And if you can, if you can build us good listening to build trust, quickly, you will do get better results, which means that your ego has to be pulled out of the equation in order you can’t listen.

Katie Robbert 9:39

I think you know, Chris, you and I could each speak to instances in our lives and our careers where our egos weren’t necessarily in check.

I mean, it’s something that you and I were talking about when we were discussing this topic a couple of weeks ago that, you know, you in previous roles, you know, we’re starting to drift down that line of having an unchecked ego because you didn’t have anyone around you to keep you grounded, I can say, for me was an age and maturity thing.

In my, you know, mid 20s, my ego remained unchecked, because I was doing a lot of really great work.

And nobody was saying, but here’s where you’re going wrong.

So when somebody did, I was like, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you know, I’m untouchable.

And it became a problem.

And so I feel like one of those ways to keep your ego in check is to have someone who keeps you more grounded, whether that’s personally or professionally, but you still have to be open to hearing that feedback.

And, you know, so we, you and I could have had a very different type of professional future together where I could have been saying, Hey, Chris, what about this? What about this, I don’t know if this works here.

And you could have continued to say, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re not on my level.

And we would have had a very different professional relationship.

Christopher Penn 11:07

That’s absolutely true.

Again, I think goes back to that listening, if if your ego is, if you’re in a situation where no one is listening, that can happen, which is what has happened to me.

For most of my career, I was doing work that no one else understood.

And therefore didn’t really question.

And looking back on it, some of the stuff I did was just flat out mathematically incorrect, like, looking back now going, Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.

You know, I was it was, I was reading through some old old emails the other night, I was doing some cleanup on my computer.

So emails back from, you know, 2010 2011, where I was discussing Google Analytics data with one of my direct reports.

And that was really my response is, oh, no, that was that’s that was the wrong thing to say, you know, it was just mathematically the incorrect.

And that all that comes back to that third point you mentioned, which is having that self awareness of, do I know where I am? Right? Do I know how far down one path of the other because the other side of, of that confidence is a lack of confidence, where you just can’t make decisions, like you’re paralyzed, you have nothing that motivates you to say, I have succeeded in the past, I do have these skills.

And therefore at some point, I can make a decision.

And so it’s almost like a spectrum.

Like on one hand, you have the overconfident arrogant, you’re doing things and you’re just gonna crash and burn.

On the other hand, you’re paralyzed, and you can’t move and you get nothing done.

And you’ve got to find that that middle ground.

Katie Robbert 12:52

Yeah, I think it’s, you know, I can definitely say, I’ve been on, you know, both sides of that extreme where that I needed the constant validation of other people, like, Am I doing this right? Do I know what I’m doing? Can you please, please, please give me some assurance, which then that lack of confidence in yourself means that other people have a lack of confidence in your abilities.

And then you’re not seeing so much as a leader anymore, you’re seeing as someone who just can’t get things done.

And so it is you can swing from one side of the pendulum to the other.

And so I personally feel like, yes, you need ego, a healthy dose of ego, but you need other people around you to keep you grounded, and keep you based in reality is really what it comes down to.

And I think that that’s one of the worst kept secrets in management and leadership is that nobody’s doing it alone.

Nobody’s like the solo hero, who’s only ever come up with their own ideas and figured everything out on their own and solely made those decisions with nobody else factoring in.

I mean, even if you look at this, and I apologize in advance if I get any of this, you know, superhero universe wrong.

But if you look even at, you know, superheroes like Batman, he had his butler.

He had people around him, you know, Alfred, he had the super smart guy at the tech company building the things for him like, he wasn’t alone in his, you know, destiny of being a superhero.

He had people around him to keep him grounded to say, hey, dumbass, stop being such a jerk and go help people.

This isn’t about you.

It’s bigger than you.

I feel the same way is true of leaders in any kind of leadership position.

Anyone who tells you that they’re doing it solely by themselves, is not self aware to see that there is a community of people around them trying to keep them grounded.

Christopher Penn 15:01

And not only that, but they have to have some sense or feeling of accountability for it.

Right? Because you can have people telling you, you’re off track, but if you’re not accountable to them, yeah, it doesn’t matter.

We’ve seen that with any number of CEOs, particularly like tech CEOs, where, you know, because they’re the majority shareholder in the company to Yeah, the board can say whatever it wants, you know, Mark Zuckerberg, but at the end of the day, they can’t do anything they’re powerless to actually do anything different.

You know, look at the way Elon Musk runs Tesla and and you know, the summer stuff that’s happening around him look at what happened with Dan price and gravity payments and things this is all these instances where not only do you need that group of people to to help steer you, but you have to be accountable to them, you have to be and part of that may be a role structure where yes, you are accountable to a board of directors.

And part of it is also a relationship structure where you trust these people enough to not lead you astray.

It’s akin to, it’s one of the things that we say in the martial arts, a leader is someone who is in front and with machete hacking the trail so that the people behind them can follow and not have to do the same thing.

But you need somebody there to say, hey, we’re headed towards a cliff, changed directions.

But also, you need those people, you need to have to feel that sense of responsibility for those people.

So you can’t just sit down and mill jungles say I’m tired, I’m doing this anymore.

No, the leader still needs to pick up the machete and keep going.

Katie Robbert 16:34

It does strike me so in instances, like Zuckerberg, or a mosque or a price, maybe the board can’t hold them accountable because of the you know, amount of shares that they own.

But the people who are holding them accountable are the audience.

They’re the customers, they’re the people who are choosing whether or not to give them their hard earned cash.

And so, you know, there’s a lot of people who have left the Facebook platform, or advertisers who are refusing to do business with Facebook anymore, or any of their other assets because of the decisions and the behaviors that someone like Mark Zuckerberg has exhibited, you know, Elon Musk is definitely alienated a lot of his audience with his past behavior.

And so while it may not be immediate accountability, there are consequences that will eventually catch up to you.

I mean, that sort of what we were saying at the beginning of this is, maybe right now, not today.

But eventually those things are going to come back to bite you whether you realize it or not, because humans, audience prospects, customers, they’re looking for a certain amount of credibility of trustworthiness of something that they can rely on, I believe, and if it’s not there, you’re alienating your audience.

And so if it’s not your board, then it’s your customers.

Christopher Penn 17:58

So how does somebody then go about figuring out, you know, what, what if, what, if you are this agency CEO? What do you tell her? What are her next steps?

Katie Robbert 18:13

I think that, for the for the woman asking the question, my first question for her is, you know, what a success look like for her individually.

So the first thing that struck me was, you know, she’s measuring success based on what other people are doing, you know, why is it that those are what she’s being compared to? You know, maybe those are her direct competitors? You know, and so that’s the first thing I personally would want to figure out is, why are is your personal success measured against what they’re doing over there? Is that the way that you feel comfortable operating? And if the answer is no, then forget about what those jackasses are doing.

And focus specifically on your team, your company, your growth, your success, you know, how can you be markedly different from the people that you don’t respect? You know, I think that, you know, it’s it’s hard.

This is an understatement.

It’s hard being a woman in tech, like, that’s an understatement.

And a lot of times what women do, myself included is we try to overcompensate by feeling like we need to be just like our male counterparts, we need to be more aggressive, we need to be louder, we need to be, you know, bigger.

And what we see is that that actually has negative repercussions because of this cultural, you know, bias against women saying that women who are allowed and aggressive are troublesome and they’re problematic, and so isn’t given the same type of respect.

And so, my first piece of advice for this woman is don’t do what they’re doing.

It’s not going to work for you.

And that’s not to say you can’t be loud and aggressive but find a way that’s authentic.

for you, you know, and so I, Chris, I mean, you can correct me if I’m wrong.

I feel like I’m appropriately aggressive, I’m direct.

But I don’t feel like I’m like loud and in your face.

And so I for me, have found a way to be that, you know, heavy hand when needed.

Christopher Penn 20:22

I would agree, I think the objectives that, you know, your standard agency CEO has, I mean, they are gonna be pretty similar, right? We want to keep making money, we want to keep winning newer, bigger, better clients, clients who have name recognition, because like attracts like, and success begets more success.

So, in those aspects, I think there’s a lot of common ground, where I think your point is really good as there’s more than one way up the mountain, right? And it’s the same as like, I am not going to achieve success in basketball, right? I just don’t have the stature.

I don’t have the height, and stuff like that.

So if I thought that, you know, if I was under the perception that basketball was the only way to achieve success in life, I would have handicapped myself.

If on the other hand, I say, Well, this is where success is, it’s having multi multimillion dollar income, how do I get there? Basketball is not it, I probably should not try to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan, for any number of reasons, it would just be a bad choice.

But could I follow in a different set of footsteps to get to that objective? But doing it in a way that’s more fitted for the skills that I have? So for someone like that, like, yeah, if you want to make $10 million recurring revenue per year, that’s a sensible objective, that now what is the recipe that you’re going to use, that’s unique to you that look at it, because the sooner you can get to your own recipe, the harder it will be for competitors to do that, because they’re not you just like, you’re not Michael Jordan, that your competitors can’t be you they can’t bring those unique ingredients of success to the table that you can’t.

So if you can find out what’s that’s going to be for you.

And that’s your blueprint than anyone trying to copy that’s going to have a really hard time.

Katie Robbert 22:20

Well, and it also occurs to me, and Chris, you and I have seen this firsthand is just because someone is winning new business doesn’t necessarily mean they’re keeping it.

You know, so what may appear to be success from the outside, internally may be a lot of big turnover.

So I mean, you know, we’ve been in situations where clients have signed on for something and then gotten something very different.

And then the agency was, you know, released from their contract pretty quickly, because, you know, nobody felt comfortable with the arrangement anymore.

And so, yes, from the outside, the press release goes out of you know, so and so agency just won this big piece of business.

But you don’t see the announcement when that business is lost, you don’t see the announcement, if they can’t retain it past that one year contract, because they didn’t do anything.

And so I think that that also needs to come into question when you’re defining success.

Christopher Penn 23:19

It does.

And I mean, that’s true in general, when you, when you look at, for example, the way we operate Trust Insights.

It’s not to work ourselves to death 90 hours a week, right? That that’s not the goal.

Could we Yes? Should we? Or do we want to not necessarily, so for us, success is also a trade off of saying, yes, we want to earn money.

But we also want to like, see the the house that we pay for, right? We want to just see our family members, we want to not be on the road 40 of the 52 weeks of the year kind of thing.

Now, again, for this for the CEO, a, those are questions that are going to be unique to every individual, what what does that look like? What, what are the kinds of things you want to do? Because I mean, even just something as simple as sales tactics are going to vary wildly based on what you have confidence in for yourself.

Right? When we were at the old shop, every sales pitch was identical.

It was a 90 minute dog and pony show 170 slides, here’s a picture of our building.

Here’s, you know, all this stuff.

Here’s a slide after slide of logo after logo.

And our win rate was not great as an agency was like 20 something percent when we pitched our own clients, and now you know, obviously doing that with with Trust Insights.

If we get a chance at bat, we win not 60% of the time, because we found what works for us so you have that multimillion dollar goal.

And now what’s the path up the mountain that’s going to work for you because regardless have gender regardless of ego, you’re going to have things that just work better for you some, for some people, it’s going to be a video sales pitch, right? Being able to say like, here’s a video we’ve put together.

For some people, it’s a written proposal.

For some people, it’s a dog and pony show.

Now, there’s some people who really love and are good at doing the dog and pony show.

But it has to fit with the product.

And it has to fit with the people.

It’s kind of like that people process platform thing.

Katie Robbert 25:27

Who knew Chris? Who knew? I mean, if people want to see pictures of my house in our sales stack, I mean, I can provide it, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It’s under construction.

But I mean, if they want to see your dog, they, I mean, I can do that I can put a picture of my dog in the sales pitch, because she’s usually she was recently on video with me.

So she’ll probably be there anyway.

But no, I mean, that’s exactly it.

Like if, if you’re trying to replicate exactly what your competitors are doing, then you’re already doing it wrong.

Because you are not your competitors.

Maybe you’re going after similar clients, but there’s a reason why they’re not winning, or retaining every single potential client out there.

And so for us, a lot of what we do is that relationship building and actually getting to know our clients on a deeper level, and really understand what their pain points are to the point where, you know, ideally, getting clients to sign on for multiple years isn’t a big deal.

You know, we have been in business for five years, and we have one client who has been with us for four of those.

You know, we’re right now in the process of talking with our existing clients about next year’s contracts, and they’re not difficult conversations.

Really, honestly, what it comes down to is do they have the budget or Not? Not? Do they see the value in the work that we do? And have we given them? You know, everything we possibly can plus respect? You know, that’s never the conversation.

It’s, we need to see what’s in our budget, and can we justify it, and 10 times out of 10, even if the budget is out of their control, they’re fighting for us to stay in their budget, because of the relationship that we’ve built with them.

And so that to me, even if we don’t get the repeat business is a measure of success, because it says we’ve done our job.

And if and when that budget opens up, where the first phone call they make.

Christopher Penn 27:28


So I’d say to start wrapping up.

No, in fact, ego is dangerous to see to success.

The more ego you have, the less you listen, the less you listen, the worst you do at business.

So when you look at trying to succeed, the more you listen, the better you’re going to be.

Katie Robbert 27:53

I would agree with that.

I mean, yeah, ego is dangerous.

Arrogance is dangerous.

Lack of self awareness is dangerous.

Too much confidence is dangerous.

And so if you find yourself in that situation, look around and see who’s around you who’s been trying to keep you grounded.

If you are that person who is trying to ground.

Someone who is you know, that egotistical person, keep trying, don’t give up on them.

Christopher Penn 28:21

Or give up on them and update your LinkedIn profile.

Katie Robbert 28:25

Yeah, go down that road.

Let’s be a little optimistic, Chris.

Christopher Penn 28:32


If you got stories that you’d like to share about your own experiences as an agency owner, or as somebody who is just trying to figure out how to get more success out of business, pop on by our free slack group go to trust insights.ai/analytics for marketers, where you win over 2600 other folks are asking answering each other’s questions every single day.

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