Ego Free Leadership: Ending the Unconscious Habits that Hijack Your Business
March 06, 2017
Brandon Black and Shayne Hughes have written a unique and collaborative book about the ways in which your ego is holding you back at work by perpetrating behavior that doesn't serve you and those around you well.
The company Brandon Black took the helm of as CEO in 2005 is not typical fodder for a business book. Encore Capital is in consumer debt collection. They buy up unpaid debt and attempt to collect on it. It's not an industry that garners many feel-good storylines or warm feelings. It is also an industry that collapsed after the financial crisis of 2008. Ninety percent of Encore's competitors went bankrupt or out of business altogether. Brandon was a first-time CEO when he took over three years prior to that, and at 37-years-old, a young one. And the business was not doing well. A year after he took over, the stock price had been halved, and the management team was in disarray and beginning to abandon ship. And yet, by the time the recession hit, they were one of the few in the industry resilient enough to weather the storm. In fact, as Black tells us:
Encore thrived. Between 2009 and 2013, our revenues and profits increased 300 percent, operating costs declined 30 percent, and the stock price rose 1200 percent.
So what was their secret? Better analysis of the debt they were acquiring or a new strategy? More aggressive collections or new technology? It turns out it was was much more basic that that, much more human. The management team simply learned to overcome their egos, and the dysfunctional behavior that stemmed from them, and work together. And it all started with Black realizing that it had to begin with himself.
In poker, they say if you can't find the mark, you're it. In leadership, if you look around and think everyone else is the problem, it means you're the problem.
He wasn't the only problem, but for change to occur it needs to be led, and that process begins within an individual before it can begin within the organization. It takes a real commitment and courage to admit and address this reality—or a crisis. Brandon Black had all three, and what he did with them is inspiring.
Ego Free Leadership is unique in the way it's written. It is a first-person account of how organizational consultants at Learning as Leadership helped Brandon and Encore Capital, and its narration of events swaps back and forth between Brandon and Shayne Hughes, president of Learning as Leadership. I can't think of any other book quite like it in its construction, but it makes for compelling reading. They even pull in another member of the management team to write about her promotion process to directly discuss diversity issues within the company and how they were handled. It's a formula that naturally pulls you through because you become invested in the story and want to find out what happens next. As you do, you'll explore your own "egosystem" and discover ways in which it is holding you back by perpetrating behavior that doesn't serve you and those around you well.
It can seem very touchy-feely at times, but as our general manager Sally Haldorson once wisely wrote, "the personal is also the professional. Or, if that makes people uncomfortable, maybe that the personal informs the professional." And the ways it does so are deeply entrenched. Black traces some of his leadership issues back to his parents' rocky relationship with a grandfather he adored. It gets intimate, which can feel uncomfortable at first, but it is the beginning to addressing more institutional behaviors, biases, and blindspots.
And it all belies the notion that CEOs need to be brash or have a strong ego to be successful—quite the contrary. The toughest thing to do is to stop acting tough. Real strength comes from admitting you're weaknesses and exposing your vulnerabilities. The really hard work is on so-called soft topics. It involves uncovering the source of your insecurities and anxieties and getting past them. You'll rediscover in Ego Free Leadership the old truth that the "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
We have 20 copies available.