“Ego is the invisible line item on every company’s profit and loss statement.” — David Marcum and Steven Smith in egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability), Fireside, 2007
I’m re-reading egonomics… which Publisher’s Weekly describes: “In this uneasy mix of business analysis and psychological study, business consultants Marcum and Smith offer a defense of ego and its broadly misunderstood counterpart, humility…”
Most people associate “ego” with words like “arrogant,” “self-centered,” “closed-minded,” “defensive” and “conceited.”
Big egos invade every team conversation, boardroom debate, marketing plan, client interaction, contract negotiation, employment interview and performance review. There’s no question it gets in the way and is a major cause of bad decision-making.
Each of us has an ego. Most of us strongly believe ours is healthy and vital to our success. Our egos contribute to self-confidence, optimism and drive for success. The overwhelming majority of us don’t have overinflated egos, but we’re all capable of letting our egos run rampant on occasion.
When this happens, our personal success and organization’s performance pay the price. It is often a subject I discuss with high-potential candidates in leadership coaching.
10 Signs of Ego
Using five years of research, David Marcum and Steven Smith write about the costs of ego in their book egonomics (Fireside, 2007). When they refer to the “cost of ego,” they’re really talking about several detrimental workplace phenomena:
- Hearing, but not listening
- People thinking “me first, company second”
- Only the “right” people have good ideas
- Pressure to fit in
- Failure to challenge status quo
- Candid discussion saved for outside the meeting
- Failures being buried and never mentioned again
- Silos created and tolerated
- Meetings going longer than necessary
- Fear of making mistakes or admitting them
There are many more. What about the manager who listens to his staff, and then consistently — without asking any questions — tells them how their ideas could be better? I know some managers who use every conversation as a springboard to showcase their knowledge and experience. That’s not a conversation, that’s a monologue.
What’s the cost to performance and productivity? It squelches innovation, inspiration, and motivation to want to help produce better results. Yet it goes unnoticed most of the time. No one likes working for a know-it-all boss.
There’s a fine line that competent and confident leaders must tread every day. It’s easy to cross from healthy confidence into arrogance. No one is immune. And it could be corrected by asking open ended questions and listening to people with genuine interest. This is one of the most common issues I deal with in my executive coaching sessions.
It’s actually more common than you might think, and easily coached. What do you think about egos in the workplace?