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A Blessing And A Curse: How Can Leaders Manage Their Egos?

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A Blessing And A Curse: How Can Leaders Manage Their Egos?

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The term ego is used to refer to a person’s sense of ‘self’. It encompasses their thoughts and feelings, including their self-esteem and sense of self-importance. We all have an ego.

A healthy ego is a good thing because it boosts our self-confidence, pushing us to confront or overcome our fears. People want to follow leaders who have a healthy ego.

On the other hand, having a ‘big’ or ‘inflated’ ego can have a detrimental impact on our decision-making and cause us to become arrogant, boastful and entitled. Leaders with oversized egos can easily alienate the people in their teams and struggle to get the best out of them.

Effective ego management is essential to being a good leader. So, with today being World Ego Day, what should leaders know about managing their own ego?

1. Let go of being right all the time

“In every organization, I see leaders who are suffering from ego-driven control-freakery,” says Richard Nugent, author of The Alignment Advantage: Transform Your Strategy, Culture and Customers to Succeed. “They work every hour and make every decision. Their best people move on as they feel disempowered. These leaders are left with more people who aren’t ready, or willing, to challenge them.”

To combat this problem, Nugent believes that leaders “must be willing to let go of being right all of the time”. He explains: “The overplayed ego drives us to give all of the answers and impart our wisdom, which limits our people’s ability to develop strategically and culturally. The humble leader can give direction and establish accountability, but also let go of how their people deliver what is required.”

2. Show vulnerability

“An unhealthy ego will impact emotional intelligence and the ability to build meaningful connections,” warns Natalie Boudou, an executive coach, CEO of international consultancy HumanForce and author of HumanForce: The Power of Emotions in a Changing Workplace.

Leaders can manage their egos by paying attention to the triggers that can make them feel defensive or fearful (signs that their egos are getting in the way). “Noticing the emotions that we feel when our egos have been touched can give us the space to choose how we wish to respond rather than react in our usual manner,” Boudou explains.

Boudou describes vulnerability as an “antidote to an unhealthy ego” and the “key to authentic leadership”. She says: “From vulnerability comes humility, which is the strength to admit that you might be wrong, that you don’t have all the answers and that you may need help to succeed. A humble person is more concerned about what is right than being right and allows team members to contribute ideas and be part of the team’s success.”

3. Learn from others

Unfortunately, inflated egos can make leaders blind to their own weaknesses and flaws. This can be detrimental to their effectiveness and career advancement since they struggle to recognize and address the areas that need improvement.

“Overcoming these two challenges relies on developing self-awareness and being willing to learn from others,” advises Antoinette Oglethorpe, director of Antoinette Oglethorpe, a professional training and coaching company specializing in career management and mentoring. “But that’s easier said than done. If a leader really wants to manage their ego, it is worth considering working with an executive coach to get some support.”

4. Ask questions

“When it comes to selling, business leaders need to remember that their clients are looking for signals and cues on who they are dealing with,” says Rob King, founder and CEO of business development service The Client Key and author of Selling Creativity: How Creatives and Agencies Can Grow their Business through the Art of Sales. The questions that clients are likely to be asking themselves include: Can I trust this person? Are they genuine? And do I like them?

“Any conversation, or transaction, can’t simply be a one-way street,” King explains. “There has to be a two-way flow of information to build rapport, empathy and trust between both parties. In essence, we need to bring something of ourselves to the party. A healthy sense of ego can play an important part in this process.”

King recommends asking questions. “It’s a simple habit to practice,” he says, “and one that will help in any situation, business or personal. Start your big open questions with ‘what…’, ‘how…’ or ‘tell me..’ and you will instantly get the other person opening up and talking. Just remember to share back – always appropriately – in response.”

5. Dial up your ego if you’re from a marginalized group

“The dangers or advantages of ego are relative depending on who you are,” says Jenny Garrett OBE, a career coach, leadership trainer, speaker and author of Equality vs Equity: Tackling Issues of Race in the Workplace.

She explains: “If you are in the majority group, humility – the opposite of ego – can be a valuable asset to you. Humility can allow you to accept challenges without the fear of failure and be admired for your ability to use your failures as learning experiences.

“But if you belong to a marginalized group, your humility is more likely to be mistaken for inadequacy and insecurity and, as a result, go against you, especially in cultures where ego is prevalent.”

As a result, Garrett says that leaders from marginalized groups are likely to need to “dial up their ego to navigate workplaces in which they are underestimated, receive microaggressions and experience bias”. On the other hand, majority group leaders may need to dial it down to accept their own flaws and shortcomings and be an inclusive leader.

6. Realize that a strong ego is not all bad

“To get to the top, and succeed in the face of pressure and uncertainty, entrepreneurs and CEOs need to exhibit a strong persona,” says Marianna Zangrillo, a speaker on leadership and strategy topics and co-author of The Next Leadership Team. “They need immense confidence, decisiveness and resilience, and these positive characteristics are often what we call having a strong ego.”

Zangrillo points to Tesla’s Elon Musk and Jamie Dimon, CEO of bank JPMorgan Chase, as examples of leaders whose success is partly due to their strong egos, which enable them to overcome obstacles and give other people confidence in their vision.

Nevertheless, Zangrillo notes that there is a “dark side of ego”, which is when leaders can’t take a step back when the situation requires it. She explains: “When leaders can’t share the spotlight to let others shine, this dark side of ego has a toxic effect on others and may cause leaders to fail.”

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