The Effect of Ego on Leadership
At AskTheManager.com we’ve always held to the belief that you can learn more from bad leadership examples than you can from the good ones. It’s not really cynical to think this way; in fact, we believe it’s quite healthy. It’s like seeking out the silver lining. We’ve learned so much from the poor, ineffective and insincere leaders in our lives, we feel we should thank them. And, when we closely examine the failed leadership examples of our collective past, we are faced with an overwhelming preponderance of overactive egos at work.
Of course, there are a few in the leadership development community who believe that leaders must possess the largest ego in the room to be truly effective. We disagree. Enlightened leaders – by their very nature – are as egoless as enlightened clergy. They serve, and as servants they deliver incredible results through the efforts of their entire team.
Even if you balk at the suggestion that effective leaders keep their egos in check, you cannot debate the negative impact of ego on team dynamics. Unhealthy ego is the single greatest barrier to teams working together effectively. Ego wears away the effectiveness of teams, and creates an agenda-driven environment where those with the uncontrollable egos put their needs ahead of the goals (and their teammates).
It’s not much of a stretch to understand that if the human ego can damage the dynamics of a team, and if teams are most effective when they have effective leadership, then leaders with too much ego can be damaging to their organizations.
Businesses need people to work as teams to meet their goals. Teams need effective leadership in order to function properly. When the leader makes it all about themselves, the team (and the organization) suffers.
Think about every bad business situation you’ve ever witnessed: What effect, if any, did ego play? Chances are that for most of the negative business situations in your memory bank, you can pinpoint the cause as ego-driven.
What’s a Bad Leader to Do?
If you’re an ineffective leader who recognizes they bring too much ego to the table, congratulations. Admitting you have a problem is always the first step. The next steps are a little harder.
In order to become an enlightened, effective leader (yes, this is a little redundant) you first have to realize that you don’t have all the answers. Even if you’re the owner of your company, you must understand very early on two important facts about industrial knowledge:
- Those closest to the customers have the answers; and
- Two heads are better than one.
As a leader, you are generally not the closest person to your customers (and you only come equipped with on head). Assuming you know it all is asinine and can be destructive to any organization. Seeking advice and answers from others not only makes you appear more genuine, it also means you’ll make better decisions.
Your next step toward shedding that melon-sized ego is to instill some humility in your routine. Humility, for those egomaniacal loons reading this, simply means that you’re humble; that you lack the pride and arrogance that makes you believe that everything is all about you. It also means that you see your major contribution as building and maintaining a motivating work environment that engages your team. (Leaders without humility believe their major contribution to the effort is the greatness that is “me.”)
Once you understand that you don’t know it all and that it’s not all about you, you can begin learning. Enlightened leaders have a voracious appetite for learning. They learn from books, from seminars and they especially learn from others. Truly enlightened leaders believe that everyone, even the receptionist and the janitor, has something to teach them. And they understand that the best way to learn is to listen.
A Spade is a Spade
Without some outside help, of course, it will be nearly impossible for the ego-driven leader to change his ways. We recommend assigning a peer or even a subordinate to call you to the carpet when you fail to provide humble, servant leadership.
Ask someone you can trust (and won’t resent) to call you an egomaniac when you step out of line. Encourage them to stand on your desk and shout at you whenever you fail to remain humble. You have to be willing to permit these constant course corrections or you have no chance to recognize and repair the destructive effects of ego on your leadership style.
The bottom line is that can’t let your ego get in the way of the goal. Your ability to overcome self-serving tendencies will determine your team’s effectiveness and anything you can do to give up your desire to be the center of attention can only help.