Nothing can be more debilitating in an organization than a leader with an ego. If you work for a leader driven by ego, your ability to cope can be pushed to the limit. In organizations, leaders with out-of-control egos are responsible for huge losses in productivity and profits.
In today’s culture that promotes self-worth and self-focus, egotism appears to be a growing trend that often gets rewarded. However, outsized egos are behind the struggle organizations have in keeping good people, doing the right thing, earning the trust of their customers, and enjoying long-term prosperity.
Egotism is easy to spot, but its effects are hard to understand, and solutions are challenging. A definition of an egotist is someone focused on themselves with little regard for others. Egotists have an unhealthy belief in their own importance.
Author Ryan Holiday, in his book, Ego Is The Enemy (Penguin, 2016), defines ego as a sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. Ego is what drives many leaders to excel in their fields, but it leaves them (and their organizations) vulnerable to failure. In a world of ambition with high rewards for success, big egos seem to come with the territory. But for effective leaders who want to build sustainable success, ego is their inner enemy.
The Inner Struggles of Leaders with Big Egos
For any leader, the risks of big ego are magnified. An inflated perception of oneself distorts reality, both inwardly and outwardly.
Because of the need to protect their sense of superiority, egotists are disconnected from the world, often naïve about its workings. Everything is simplified to conform to their personal perceptions, and truth is refashioned. They are blind to “uncooperative” agents, or refuse to deal with them. This causes the egotist to carve out a false life and behaviors that aren’t appropriate or effective.
Egotists blame and resent the people or systems they feel have let them down. Playing the victim, they perpetuate distorted thoughts, imagery and their own superiority to regain position. Unintentionally, the egotist places a barrier between themselves and the world.
Always envied, always judged, the egotist responds to this self-appointed status with various behaviors of defensiveness, rashness, or inconsideration.
The Outer Symptoms of Egotism
Leaders with big egos not only affect the people they work with, but the productivity of the whole organization suffers. Because of the egotist’s disinterest in other viewpoints, they cannot work constructively with those who disagree. They can’t accept or learn from feedback, and it doesn’t take long for feedback to be stifled altogether. A distorted take on reality leads to the egotist’s overconfidence in tackling major challenges.
It’s not difficult to grasp that these symptoms of leadership ego eventually lead to overriding problems that can be difficult to reverse. Teamwork and loyalty are compromised. Creativity, learning, and growth are significantly limited. Opportunities and expectations are missed. Customer retention is jeopardized. Employee turnover rises and the prospects for success fall.
Taking Ground Back from Egotism
Egotism in leadership can be countered. But it takes a deliberate effort on the part of leaders to refocus and see things from a wider view. Trained coaches can be an excellent resource to guide leaders to a helpful perspective. In some cases, a leader can only make progress on becoming less egotistical through working with an experienced professional.
An effective leader requires a life of balance. Some ego tendencies are beneficial. Boldness and confidence are certainly assets in forging direction and inspiring followers. But these tendencies must be kept in check and proportioned with other important leadership attributes.
A leader needs to optimize the art of self-management, where they can suppress and channel ego when needed. This takes an awareness of the danger signs and an accurate self-assessment. Detaching from false mentalities and their influences is key. It always feels good to satisfy the inner cravings of self-importance, but danger is never far away.
An important aspect of correcting egotistical tendencies is learning about emotional intelligence. Improving EQ requires a leader to properly substitute humility for ego and recognize the viewpoints of others.
Principles That Subdue Egotism
The egotistical leader is good at talking big. But big talk is a front that the egotist uses to sidestep true accomplishment.
A leader with an ego believes that their mission is to win and succeed over others. But they need to realize the only meaningful mission in life is to pursue a purpose larger than themselves.
Egotistical leaders can’t learn anything if they think they already know everything. A key to successful leadership is to agree that no one knows everything they need to know to be the best they can be. The best leaders know how to swallow pride, get feedback, admit shortcomings, and learn. Then they get busy.
Egotistical leaders benefit by appreciating the historic truth that greatness starts with a humble heart and the setting aside of ego. Ego is a liar that distorts reality. The leader who can ignore the tempting thoughts and images that have been distorting their perspectives to make them feel important will have the best chance of shaking their egotistical ways. They need a clearer, more honest picture of what’s happening around them. That’s best done through other points of view.
Leaders will see their people rally behind them if they can adopt these principles, reframe their mindsets and habits, and earn the trust needed to effectively prosper their people and their organizations.