The third in our series of leadership mistakes and how to fix them, conquering the problem of ego run amok is a tough one—especially for people who are very talented. Ego is often the biggest problem for leaders, and it accounts for about 70 to 80% of the leadership problems I see. This problem takes several forms.
Assholism This afflicts the person who is obnoxious and denigrating, who takes all the credit, and who basically doesn’t follow the Golden Rule. There is a great book by Professor Robert Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. I recommend this book if assholism is corrupting your leadership strategy, or if you need help dealing with this kind of leader.
Attacking people who can’t fight back Whether it’s the waiter or anyone else they consider an underling, people with an overblown ego will take advantage of their position and are basically bullies. They can’t be trusted.
The smartest person in the room Anyone who loves to–and needs to–hear the sound of their own voice probably has an unchecked ego problem. They don’t listen because they are too busy talking. This causes them to squander valuable resources because nobody has better ideas than they do, so they never get to utilize ideas they hadn’t thought of.
Win at all costs This is not just about big battles, but particularly the little things, like needing to win every argument or be right about every little thing. This is a characteristic of the out-of-control ego, and it makes it difficult for anybody to follow this person.
Micromanagement is one of the most glaring aspects of the egomaniac. Micromanaging says, “I am I considerably more intelligent and talented than you are. It’ll take you forever, and you’ll probably do it wrong.” If you’ve ever experienced a manager who takes work off your desk, you know how demoralizing that is.
So how do we fix it? In some cases, it’s possible to help them realize that this issue is going to cost them their jobs or their careers. Unfortunately, when people have the kind of ego that’s not susceptible to advice or counseling, they are best terminated immediately. There isn’t much we can do for these leaders.
One of the axioms about ego that I really like is, “Get over yourself.” I like it so much that it’s tattooed on the inside of my left arm. I have a potential ego problem myself from time to time, so this helps me remember I’m simply not that big a deal.
Finally, the most practical behavior that folks with the ego problems can practice is listening 80% of the time. That means if you have to bite your tongue, you bite your tongue. You do whatever you have to do to behave like a more humble person. And the good news is, by practicing this behavior, it will begin to introduce some genuine humility into your character, even if you don’t really feel it in the beginning.