Servant Leadership: Dealing with Your Ego Requires a Balancing Act

A lack of self-awareness combined with an overactive ego can trip up an otherwise great leader.

When leaders allow their ego to go unchecked it can erode their effectiveness, says Ken Blanchard, co-editor of the new book, Servant Leadership in Action. “When that happens, leaders see themselves as the center of the universe and they put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of people who are affected by their thoughts and actions.

Blanchard explains that when a leader’s sense of self-worth is tied up in their achievements and the perceptions of others, “their self-worth is up for grabs on a daily basis.”

“It becomes increasingly difficult for a leader with this mindset to maintain a healthy and centered self-determined image. Since their performance varies from day to day, they shift back and forth between feelings of fear and false pride.

“Leaders dominated by false pride are often seen as controlling. Even when they don’t know what they are doing, they have a high need for power and control. They tend to insist they are right even when it’s clear to everyone else they are wrong.

“Fear-driven leaders are often characterized as do-nothing bosses. Their people say they are seldom around, always avoiding conflict and not very helpful. Their fear of making a mistake and feelings of inadequacy keep them from taking action when they should.”

Practice Shining a Light on Others

For better ego balance, Blanchard recommends keeping things in perspective and looking for opportunities to catch people doing things right.

“The best leaders know it’s not about you—it’s about the people you serve. You finally become an adult when you realize that life is about what you give rather than what you get. Don’t let an overactive ego keep you from being your best self or bringing out the best in others.”

PS: You can learn more from Blanchard and 20 other authors, CEOs, and thought leaders who have contributed to the Servant Leadership in Action book at a free online webcast on February 28.  Blanchard is hosting the event to help spread the word about an others-focused approach to leadership.

Register for this event at the Servant Leadership in Action Livecast registration page.  The event is free, courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.

4 thoughts on “Servant Leadership: Dealing with Your Ego Requires a Balancing Act

    • Hi Bilko–I like the warning signs that authors David Marcum and Steven Smith identify in their book Egonomics.

      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.

      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.

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