The ego is one of the biggest barriers to people working together effectively. When people get caught up in their egos, it erodes their effectiveness. That’s because the combination of false pride and self-doubt created by an overactive ego gives people a distorted image of their own importance. When that happens, people see themselves as the center of the universe and they begin to put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those affected by their thoughts and actions.
That’s a deadly combination in today’s business environment, where organizations need people to work together collaboratively to meet the ever increasing expectations of customers.
The good news is that there is an antidote.
Name it and claim it
One of our favorite ways to reduce the negative impact of ego in the work environment is to conduct an Egos Anonymous session with senior executives. Taking a somewhat tongue-in-cheek cue from the well-known opening session of most 12-step programs, we have the executives sit in a circle, introduce themselves, and share the last time they let their egos get in the way of being their best self. The opening laughter turns more serious, though, as executives describe some of the ego-driven behaviors they regret.
You can check this out for yourself. Reflect on a recent situation where you behaved badly or in a way inconsistent with who you see yourself to be. If you are like the executives we’ve worked with, you’ll find that your ego-driven episode was a result of fear or false pride: a need to be right, to be seen as smart, or to be accepted as a part of the group. Or perhaps your ego episode was driven by a need to win–even at the expense of others. All of these behaviors limit your effectiveness as a leader.
What was the need that drove you to act egotistically? Did you feel threatened or devalued? When you name it and claim it, you begin to neutralize the power it has over you.
Another way to recalibrate an overactive ego is to practice humility. In organizations, humility means recognizing that work is not all about you; it’s about the people you serve and what they need.
True leadership–the essence of what people long for and desperately want to follow–entails an appropriate level of humility that brings out the best in others. Jim Collins talks about this in his classic book, Good to Great. He found two characteristics that describe great leaders: willand humility. Will is the determination to follow through on an organizational vision, mission, or goal that is bigger than you are. Humility is the capacity to recognize that leadership is about serving others instead of being served.
Collins tells a great story to illustrate this. When things are going well for self-serving leaders, they will look in the mirror, beat their chests, and tell themselves how good they are. When things go wrong, they look out the window and blame everyone else. On the other hand, when things go well for great leaders, they look out the window and give everyone else the credit. When things go wrong, these serving leaders look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What could I have done differently?” That requires real humility.
Find truth tellers in your life
A third way to keep your ego in check–especially if you are a senior leader–is to have a group of people you can count on to be truth tellers in your life. These are the people who know you well, don’t have anything to gain from being less than honest with you, and who you can count on to give you the straight scoop. These people are essential in your life as a leader–especially as you climb into the higher ranks of an organization where honest feedback becomes scarce, as everyone treads lightly.
Fight the tendency to become isolated from honest feedback by regularly checking in and inviting frank discussions about what is happening in your environment. Keep an open mind. Remember: feedback is the breakfast of champions!
Be a learner
The final strategy for rebalancing your ego is to become a continual learner. Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, you need to be open to learning from other people and listening to them. No matter how smart you are, it’s important to seek out and consider the ideas, skills, and opinions of others. No one of us is as smart as all of us. Need practice with this? Find somebody who has the skills and energy to do what you don’t know how to do yet. Work together on a joint project. Discover what it is like to be a learner again.
Today, you need to partner
In today’s increasingly collaborative business environment, ego has become a liability. While there’s nothing wrong with superstar talent, a healthy competitive drive, and sharply honed skills, you cannot reach your full potential by relying on these alone. To achieve your goals, you are going to need the cooperation and talents of other individuals.
So name your ego lapses. Practice humility. Invite honest feedback. Learn from others. These practices will not only eliminate your blind spots, they’ll also increase your value as a leader, because the example you set will inspire your colleagues to help your organization succeed.
–Scott Blanchard is the co-founder of Blanchard Certified, a new cloud-based leadership development resource and experience. Ken Blanchard is the best-selling co-author of The One Minute Manager and 50 other books on leadership. You can follow Ken Blanchard on Twitter@KenBlanchard or @LeaderChat and also via the HowWeLead and LeaderChat blogs.