Ego and the Dark Side of High Achievement

Are you driven to achieve?  Are you overly concerned with the opinions of others?  Ken Blanchard left a reminder on voice mail the other day that if your self-worth is dependent on your accomplishments plus the opinion of others you are in trouble, because that means your self-worth is up for grabs on a daily basis.

We all have bad days.  We are always going to rub some people the wrong way.  Should that really be the measure of our sense of well-being? 

If you are still answering yes, consider that those two viewpoints are consistent with two of the four warning signs that you might have an overactive ego that is holding you back in other areas.  In their wonderful 2007 book, Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability), authors David Marcum and Steven Smith identify the following warning signs that your ego may be out of balance. 

  1. Constantly seeking acceptance—you find yourself becoming overly concerned with what other people think.
  2. Feeling the need to constantly showcase your brilliance—you go beyond “tooting your own horn” to making your brilliance the center of attention. 
  3. Being overly comparative—instead of being your own individual best, you find yourself focusing instead on just being better than someone else. 
  4. Being overly defensive—instead of defending an idea, you find yourself making things personal.

One key point in the book is that an out of balance ego doesn’t feel dramatically different from an in-balance ego.  In fact, you might not even notice at first—even though other people will.  That’s because ego takes your strengths and subtly changes them into close counterfeits.  Now everything seems a little self-serving and things that people appreciated about you—like being able to come up with an alternative viewpoint, being able to objectively compare your point of view to someone else’s, brainstorm good ideas, and seek and welcome feedback—things that make you a good team member—are subtly changed. 

So how do the authors of Egonomics recommend rebalancing your ego?  Three ways:

  1. Humility: Don’t think less of yourself—just think about yourself less.  Remember that too little ego is just as much out of balance as too much ego.
  2. Curiosity: Ask, instead of tell. None of us is as smart as all of us.
  3. Veracity: Find truth-tellers in your life.  People who will be straight with you and tell you what you need to hear.

Ego can be our greatest asset, or it can be our biggest liability. It’s all about keeping it in balance.

3 thoughts on “Ego and the Dark Side of High Achievement

  1. Pingback: The Most Important Question to Ask New Leaders « Blanchard LeaderChat

  2. Hi David, this takes a lot of personal strength to understand this and see the differences. I find it interesting to see who falls into this trap of insecurity because often it’s very successful people. But you’re so right, it’s a liability that holds us back from even greater success.

    This also makes me think about a focus on competition vs. a focus on your own product/service offering. If you’ve got the ego issues, you’ll likely be focused more on staying up with & beating the competition (management by fear) rather than focusing on offering the best you can to serve your own clients (leading with confidence in your/your team’s abilities). It’s a subtle distinction with big differences.

    Great article – thanks for sharing!

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