An out of balance ego doesn’t feel dramatically different from one that is in balance, explain authors David Marcum and Steven Smith in their book, Egonomics—and that’s why it trips up so many leaders.
That’s because ego can take your strengths and subtly change them into “close counterfeits”—weaknesses that actually mimic those same strengths. When this happens, everything seems a little self-serving. Qualities that people appreciate about you, such as being able to come up with an alternative viewpoint, objectively comparing your point of view to someone else’s, brainstorming good ideas, or seeking and welcoming feedback—things that make you a good team member—begin to tilt slightly toward your own best interests.
In his best-selling business book How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins explains how some of these subtleties can change the way teams operate once ego—which Collins expresses as hubris—sets in. The result is behavior that is defensive, self-promoting, comparative, and resistant to new ideas. See if you recognize any of these behaviors starting to creep into your team dynamics:
According to Collins, in teams on the way down:
- People shield those in power from unpleasant facts, fearful of penalties and criticism for shining light on rough realities.
- People assert strong opinions without providing data, evidence, or a solid argument.
- Team leaders have a very low question-to-statement ratio, avoiding critical input or allowing sloppy reasoning and unsupported opinions.
- Team members acquiesce to a decision but don’t unify to make the decision successful—or worse, they undermine it after it’s been put into place.
- Team members seek as much credit as possible for themselves, yet do not enjoy the confidence and admiration of their peers.
- Team members argue to look smart or to further their own interests rather than arguing to find the best answers to support the overall cause.
- The team conducts “autopsies with blame,” seeking culprits rather than wisdom.
- Team members fail to deliver exceptional results and blame other people or outside factors for setbacks, mistakes, and failures.
Has ego taken a foothold in your team meetings? Awareness is a good first step. To learn more about addressing ego on a personal and organizational level, be sure to read Egonomics and How the Mighty Fall. Both books are highly rated and will provide you and your team with insight and action steps for bringing egos back into balance.