Egos are Good


Egos are good.

I always knew I was going to be rich. I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute. (Warren Buffett)

That’s interesting.

But what about humility, today’s uber-meta-necessary silver bullet of awesome leadership?  The thing we all want to be, humblebragging aside, but can’t really call ourselves.

Doesn’t a big ego preclude humility?

We like our bosses and colleagues to have humility.  That’s nice and comfortable.  We aren’t so sure we want them to have big egos.  That’s not nice and comfortable. Because that would get in the way of our own egos.

Just because we can point to situations in which ego takes too big of a role, doesn’t mean we should eliminate ego altogether.  IMHO.

Egos. We all have them.

Egos are useful constructs for getting by in life. Your ego is your operating system.

Ego is simply the identification with or of the self. We all have Ego, how else would we identify with being part of the world.

Egos aren’t just seen in business leaders and entrepreneurs.  If you are an employee somewhere, you not only have your own ego calling a few shots, but you are also benefitting from someone who had enough ego to go build a vehicle for you to make an income.

Most of us wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for people with big egos.

It takes a person with a healthy ego and willingness to sacrifice some likability to build the businesses that create jobs for the rest of us.

There is no one, in the history of anyone in the world, who has stood up for what they believed in and remained liked by everyone. (Sarah Nadav)

Thank you to the intrepid souls who do this.

…being humble and nice helps one to relate to others and can be an asset for a leader, but being a manager/leader requires so much more than this. Leaders, especially senior leaders, must have solid egos. They must have the ability to face uncertainty and resistance, to choose courses of action that may be unpopular and sometimes to inflict pain on individuals and groups. (Jean-Francois Manzoni)

To the rest of us, let us remember that businesses are made up of people, people have egos, egos will clash, and clashes resolve in favor of those with the most power. That’s just how the world works.

The more self-aware we each are for our contribution to the dynamic, the more we each respond productively when the inevitable occurs.

Ego, power, and empathy.

With leadership comes power. With power comes reduced empathy.  With reduced empathy comes a greater likelihood of ego overuse.  There’s a lot more than these three things that go into being an effective leader, but all other things being equal, it pays to keep this effect in mind.

Even the smallest dose of power can change a person. You’ve probably seen it. Someone gets a promotion or a bit of fame and then, suddenly, they’re a little less friendly to the people beneath them. (Chris Benderev on NPR)

If you are a leader with some power and a sincere desire to lead well, this is likely to worry you.  The same ego that helps you gain the power to build good things through other people is, by nature, systematically inflated by that same success. The success you seek is your biggest enemy!

What to do? The best medicine for power-induced empathy loss and ego overuse is humility.

Humility matters. 

I joked about it earlier, but it’s an important part of the success formula.  Smart, capable people aspire to have humility because it’s presence in a leader’s behavior correlates with better, long-term business results.

It’s all about the use case.

It’s worth remembering that you can overplay the humility card just as much as you can overplay the ego card.  And maybe, just maybe, a little bit of narcissism may be a good thing.

Narcissists might be annoying and even downright selfish, but they may be the best bet when bold and unconventional actions are needed to save an organization. (Albrecht Enders)

Wait.  We were just talking about egos and now we’re talking about narcissism?

Ego by any other name smells the same.

Whether we call it a big ego, (over-)confidence, being a jerk, or narcissism, the theme is the same.  We ‘know’ it when we see it and when we do, we don’t usually like it.  So we complain about it.

As much fun as it is to point at someone else’s flaws, whether it’s ego or something else, it isn’t generally productive to harp on it.  We want our leaders to be paragons of moral perfection—flawlessly displaying just the right amount of ego and humility.  In some ways, we expect more of our leaders than we expect from ourselves.

It’s true that leadership comes with obligations.  It’s true that leadership comes with formal authority and power that enable leaders to cause broad-reaching impacts on more people than those not in leadership roles.  It’s true that ego-overuse can result in treating people inhumanely, and there’s no excuse for that.

But moral perfection is a bit much to ask of anybody. 

The CEO is the one with hizzer neck on the line if it doesn’t all come together.  That takes some gonads.  With gonads, comes a little extra ego.  It’s just how things work.

If you are an employee who works in an accountability hierarchy, this means that you have a role to perform for the business. Your obligation to the business is to do your role to the best of your ability.  While your manager and other leaders have obligations to provide guidance, support, and an environment conducive to doing great work, they are not obliged to coddle you.

What to do? What to do!

Is the message here that you should embrace your ego?  That you should be afraid of your ego? That you should constantly seek just the right balance between ego and humility?

I don’t have a good answer to any of those questions.

ego v humility

This is more of a commentary on human nature. 

Understanding human nature matters because I believe that the more you run your business in a way that expects people to behave like humans, the better off you’ll be.

The problems that beset a business when a bunch of egos bump up against each other can be hair-pullingly frustrating.  But if you can look at it objectively, and see the patterns for what they are, you might find humor in it all.  Sometimes, things happen that are pretty funny when you look at them in the rear view mirror.

Humor is a wonderful way to turn bitter medicine into a spoonful of sugar.  So let’s laugh.  It releases stress, emits fun hormones.  And that’s a good thing.

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