When leaders get caught up in their ego, they erode their effectiveness. Leaders with an overactive ego find themselves unable to center. Instead they are constantly moving from a sense of inadequacy to an overinflated sense of their own importance.
In his book Leading at a Higher Level, business author Ken Blanchard explains that “When leaders are addicted to either ego affliction, it erodes their effectiveness.”
“Leaders dominated by false pride are often called ‘controllers.’ Even when they don’t know what they are doing, they have a high need for power and control. Even when it’s clear to everyone that they are wrong, they keep on insisting they are right.”
At the other end of the spectrum are the fear-driven leaders. Blanchard says these individuals are often characterized as “do-nothing bosses.” They’re described as “never around, always avoiding conflict and not very helpful.” Their fear of making a mistake and feelings of inadequacy keep them from taking action — even when they should.
Four Warning Signs
In their book Egonomics, authors David Marcum and Steven Smith identify four warning signs that an overactive ego might be undermining an executive’s career.
Seeking acceptance: A leader becomes overly concerned with what others think. This keeps leaders from being true to themselves. These leaders tend to play it safe, swim with the current and restate others’ ideas instead of putting forth their own.
Showcasing brilliance: Leaders go beyond sharing good ideas to making their brilliance the center of attention. When showcasing is allowed or encouraged, the casualty is collective wisdom. Paradoxically, the more a leader showcases his or her brilliance, the less likely people are to listen.
Being comparative: Instead of focusing on being their own personal best, these leaders find themselves fixated on comparing themselves to others. Excessive comparison turns colleagues into competitors, and competitors are not effective collaborators. Comparing strengths to weaknesses leads to excessive self-confidence or feelings of inadequacy.
Being defensive: Instead of defending an idea, these leaders find themselves defending their positions as if they were defending themselves personally. Leaders focus on proving their cases and deflecting alternative points of view. These leaders resist feedback, brush off mistakes and discussions become superficial.
Keep Ego In Balance
Because ego acts subtly and a healthy ego is necessary for anyone who aspires to leadership, the goal is not to remove ego from the equation, but to keep it in balance. Marcum and Smith recommend that leaders develop their humility, curiosity and veracity. The goal is to achieve and maintain an intelligent self-respect and genuine confidence.
With a little bit of vigilance and an understanding of the four overactive ego warning signs, leaders can head off trouble before it erodes their effectiveness. Leaders with an accurate perception of self, who remain open to feedback and who maintain a commitment to something larger than their personal self interests can help others do the same.
You can learn more about the dangers of an overactive executive ego and explore some additional resources and strategies from David Marcum, Steven Smith, Ken Blanchard, Matthew Hayward and Jim Collins by checking out the new Chief Learning Executive article, When Ego Trumps the Company.