When Ego Drives Leadership

“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

If you’ve ever worked for someone with a big ego, then you know how frustrating it can be. Nothing can be more debilitating in an organization. Leaders with out-of-control egos are responsible for huge losses in productivity and profits and are behind many of the struggles organizations have in keeping good people, doing the right thing, earning the trust of their customers and enjoying long-term prosperity. In today’s culture, which promotes self-worth and self-focus, egotism appears to be a growing trend that unfortunately often gets rewarded.

Author Ryan Holiday, in his book, Ego Is the Enemy (Penguin, 2016), defines ego as a sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.   An egotist is also defined as someone focused on themselves with little regard for others and who have an unhealthy belief in their own importance.  In my experience coaching many clients, egotism is easy for people to spot, but its effects are hard to understand, and solutions are challenging.

An egotist has a strong tendency to talk about themselves in a self-promoting fashion, coming across as arrogant and boastful with a grandiose sense of their own importance. Their inability to recognize the accomplishments of others leaves them profoundly self-promoting.  At the same time, they are overly sensitive to criticism which can quickly turn into narcissistic rage at any hint of insult.

Ego is what drives many leaders to excel in their fields, but it leaves them (and their organizations) vulnerable to failure.  In a world of ambition with high rewards for success, big egos seem to come with the territory. But for leaders who want to build sustainable success, ego truly is the inner enemy.  These tendencies directly impact the employees, leading to the loss of good people, as well as the organization’s bottom line and reputation.

What’s it like where you work? What’s been your experience working with people with too much ego? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.