There is much debate about whether having an ego is good or bad for business and whether leaders who have “an ego” are good or bad leaders. The wide range of views around this issue seem to suggest that the answer is that “it depends”.
From my perspective, the “it depends” lies largely in one’s interpretation of “ego.” I have long argued that everyone has an ego, as have others. It’s fair to say that all of us, to some extent or another, seek affirmation of our value and worth, and that doing so does not automatically equate to being arrogant or self-centred. In fact, developing a healthy sense of ego can not only help boost an individual’s self-esteem, it can be quite empowering, – the bolder you think, the bolder you’ll act.
The challenge, however, is how to harness ego for the betterment of the organisation and not simply oneself. There are sadly, too many examples of ego on overdrive, where arrogance and/or an inflated view of self-importance cause leaders to push aside business needs in favour of what suits them personally. Leaders become wrapped up in believing in their infallibility, with a constant need to feed the ego, that now needs to survive. Not surprisingly, they remain immune to the destructive consequences of their impact on those around them.
As leaders, our responsibility is to value ego for what it is and ensure that we don’t succumb to allowing it to consume what we do, how we think and how we act. So, how can leaders stay attuned to and aware of making sure they maintain a healthy ego.
Four for the Door – four reasons to manage your Ego
- To keep your finger on the pulse
A self-inflated belief of capability can often cause leaders to be oblivious to the viewpoints of their team. Failing to seek feedback, accept criticism or challenges and or be open to new information, is not only disheartening and demotivating for colleagues who are likely to feel under-valued, it’s a sure-fire way to stifle innovation and collaborative working. Staying open to perspectives and not surrounding yourself with yes people will not only make you a better leader, it facilitates the ability to really connect with stakeholders, which ultimately leads to better business results. It keeps the ego healthy!
- To help you recognise when you’re wrong
Egocentrism is an apology killer. Accepting responsibility when things go wrong is an absolute must to ensuring that relationships and trust are maintained within an organisation. Failure to see and admit mistakes, and or not seeking to cast blame elsewhere when things go wrong, is vitally important to the health of an organisational culture. Without it, people stop flagging issues of concern and or start to hide issues, simply because they think it’s a lost cause to raise the issue, and/or have no wish to risk being in the firing line if the typical response is to “shoot the messenger”. If someone’s ego is creating barriers to such vital elements of transparency, there’s going to be rifts in the ranks and subsequently the business.
- To never stop you from learning
When success and self-confidence intertwine, such that it leads to thinking that you already know everything and have all the answers, your ego is unbalanced. Without a desire to stay curious, to accept that quality outcomes derive from having multiple inputs and perspectives, leaders can easily lose sight of what’s important. Leadership is not about knowing everything, in fact, it’s the opposite. Without a desire to learn and or having enough self-awareness of what you don’t know, blind-spots become all too prevalent and results in the undoing of a company. There are countless examples of previously successful and revered companies, where this has been the case, caused by CEOs who got carried away and lost in their over self-importance.
- To keep you grounded
When a leader has an inflated ego, they often start to hold warped values and lose perspective. When personal needs and personal agendas become the focal point, and ‘me’ rather than the ‘we’ is the driver for everything, power becomes a negative versus positive force in the business. With great power comes great responsibility (thank you Spiderman), and if the power goes to a leader’s head, their responsibilities fall further and further down the priority list and the business suffers.
The Latin word of ego is ‘I’, however it’s how leaders interpret the ‘I’ that separates whether, ego is good or bad for business and leaders.