Balance that Ego!

person in desk chair being pulled down a hill with a ball

Leadership is a complex art that requires a delicate balance of various qualities. One of the most influential and controversial aspects of leadership is Ego. While Ego can serve as a driving force behind ambition and confidence, it can also lead to destructive behaviours that hinder team dynamics and organizational growth.

So, what’s Ego? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability.”

In my career and personal life, I’ve seen many scenarios of the Ego at work, the good, bad, and ugly.

I thought I’d share some insights and my personal philosophy.

Ego is getting a bad reputation….we need “Ego” to help us reach our goals and work towards what we feel is success, but it is no different from our favourite superhero and their powers; when in the wrong hands, it can get ugly!

The “Good” Ego can be a powerful tool when we use it in a positive and meaningful way. A leader with a healthy ego exhibits confidence and ambition, inspiring others to reach their full potential. When leaders believe in their abilities and have a clear vision for the future, they can motivate their team to work together towards common goals. A confident leader can make tough decisions and take calculated risks, often leading to the organization’s growth and success.

I have worked with leaders in organizations who succeed because of their confidence and ability to demonstrate empathy with their teams and peers, listen to others’ opinions without judgment (even when they disagree), and show kindness and curiosity.

However, there’s a fine line between confidence and overconfidence, the “Bad” Ego. An overly inflated ego can lead to a sense of superiority, where leaders believe they are always right and refuse to listen to others’ perspectives. This tunnel vision can blind leaders to potential pitfalls, leading to poor decision-making and a lack of adaptability. Arrogance can alienate team members, creating a toxic work environment and hindering creativity and innovation. No one builds a following or a successful team or organization when they let their Ego get in the way.

This is the Ego that I have seen most often in my career. I’ve had the pleasure of working with leaders who fit this – I say pleasure because I find these individuals helpful in a sense (mental notes of what not to do) and fascinating to learn from their behaviour and interactions with others.

When Ego goes unchecked, the “Ugly” Ego, it can escalate into full-blown narcissism. Narcissistic leaders prioritize their own needs and desires over those of their team or organization. They crave constant admiration, are unable to delegate work appropriately, want to look good and take all credit, lack empathy, and often engage in manipulative and exploitative behaviours. This self-centred approach erodes trust within the team and between peers very quickly, causes high turnover rates, stifles collaboration, and limits their own personal and professional growth. Ultimately, it harms the overall performance and reputation of the organization.

I have had the opportunity to work with a couple of leaders in this group. Leaders that demonstrate these behaviours usually don’t last long in one organization, in my experience. Their lack of self-awareness is genuinely mind-boggling; I’ve often wondered if they knew how they were being perceived, would that change their behaviour?

Successful leaders are self-aware and actively manage their Ego, ensuring it remains a positive force that inspires and motivates rather than a destructive one that impedes progress. By cultivating humility, seeking feedback, and valuing the contributions of others, leaders can harness the power of their Ego for the greater good, fostering a culture of collaboration, growth, and success.

Here are some of my tips on how we can mitigate the negative effects of Ego

Recognizing and managing ego-driven behaviours is essential for effective leadership. Here are some strategies to keep Ego in check:

  1. Cultivate Self-Awareness: Leaders should engage in regular self-reflection and seek feedback from peers and subordinates to gain insights into their behaviour and its impact on others.
  2. Embrace Humility: Humble leaders acknowledge their limitations and value the expertise of their team members. They are open to learning from others and admit when they are wrong.
  3. Encourage Constructive Criticism: Leaders should foster an environment where feedback is encouraged and valued, even if it challenges their ideas.
  4. Promote a Collaborative Culture: Emphasize teamwork and create opportunities for cross-functional collaboration to harness diverse perspectives and ideas.
  5. Lead by Example: Demonstrate the values and behaviours expected from the team, showing that leadership is about serving others and the greater good.

 Wishing you the awareness to draw on your “Good” Ego for the good of you and the people around you.

~ Erin


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