“There is one aspect of a leader’s personality that is both their greatest asset and greatest potential liability at the same time. And if it is not dealt with correctly, it has the ability to stop a promising career dead in its tracks.
That element of human personality is ego, and its power is seductive.
Early in a leader’s career, it helps a young executive seek new innovations, stay the course when others would quit, and push through to higher levels of excellence where others would settle for less. But if a leader does not channel their ego properly it can also lead to a willful disregard of reality, a lack of self awareness, and an unquenchable need to be the best.
When that happens, the results can be disastrous. In their book Egonomics, authors David Marcum and Steven Smith point to Ohio State research that shows
- Over one third of all fatal business decisions are driven by ego.
- Nearly 2/3 of executives never explore alternatives once they make up their mind.
- 81% of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, and not by the value of their idea.
So how can you draw on the benefits of ego while avoiding the pitfalls? How do you find the combination of intense professional will and extreme personal humility that Jim Collins describes in his best-selling book, Good To Great? For Collins, part of the solution includes
- Conscious personal development
- Help from a mentor
Madeleine Homan Blanchard, cofounder of Coaching Services at The Ken Blanchard Companies agrees and recommends a similar course of action. In a recorded webinar on Leaders: Avoid These Fatal Flaws, Homan-Blanchard recommends that leaders keep their ego in check through three strategies.
- Name it and claim it—Without self awareness there can be no restraint or modulation. Know your least desirable traits and own up to them. Learn what triggers you and leads you to engage in your worst behaviors.
- Get feedback and commit to development—Ask questions. Sit down with direct reports and find out what you could do to be a more effective boss. Listen carefully and say, “Thank you,” when they offer feedback. Take action on trouble spots.
- Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you—Be courageous when hiring. Make sure you have colleagues and direct reports who think differently from you. Also make sure you have at least one colleague you can count on for an honest opinion and who serves as your “truth teller.”’