How’s that Ego?

True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.

Sheri L. Dew

I remember when I first accepted a management position. I naively thought that having the word “manager” in my title would help me to achieve results. I considered team successes to be my doing and, well, I had an ego.

But an ego is fine, right? There is nothing wrong with a little self-confidence…

Good try, but ego and self-confidence are two very different concepts. Ego is about self-interest. Self-confidence is about believing in ourselves, and having faith in our own abilities. It is possible to have one and not the other. Because ego is about self-interest, it can result in bad behaviour. This article explains the difference very well.

A leader who is prepared to forgo self-interest is a leader who has every chance of serving their team and working towards great results. The reason for this is that everything starts to become about the team and the outcomes, rather than the leader. This opens up a whole new world of decision making, and a whole new view of the world.

I remember one day a few years ago, one of the most senior leaders on the account that I was working on instructed my team to complete some work that fell within the scope of another team. I advised this leader that it was still under the control of that team, but offered to provide assistance if required. My team was funded for specific tasks, so focussing on this task would remove them from a funded task on to one that, under our contract, we would not receive revenue. It would also place our funded tasks at risk. Additionally, only the other team had the authorisations and access required to complete the requested task. The response from this leader was “You mark my words. Your team WILL be doing this, and they WILL have this done by the end of the day, or else!”

In my assessment, this is an example of ego. An agreement had been made between this leader and the client that my team would do this. The leader had made the agreement without an understanding of what was involved, and with no consultation with the appropriate teams. Instead of realising their error and learning from it, the leader responded to the professional opinion of the team by becoming defensive and making it about them and how they felt. This behaviour was not enabling my team or the organisation to succeed. In my assessment, it set the team up to fail, because it meant that they had to re-direct their focus from funded activities in order to get something working over which they had absolutely no control and no authority to do so. This is not serving the team.

It is great to have self-confidence, but don’t confuse it with ego. Keep the self-confidence; you’ll need it. However, perhaps it is worth looking at how ego serves you. Leadership is not about receiving personal accolades. It is not about you at all. It is about serving a team in a way that ensures that team is empowered to be the best that they can be. It is about focussing on outcomes. My feeling is that, in the example above, a leader who could manage their ego would have worked with me to determine the best outcome for the team and the client. They would not have let their ego get in the way of an outcome. They would have approached the team and arrived at a solution (based on the professional recommendations of the team) before committing to the client.

A colleague for whom I have a significant amount of respect once explained this to me very well, albeit in a manner that was neither politically correct nor eloquent. He said “There is no I in team, but there is one in d*ckhead. Be a team, not a d*ckhead.”

Check your ego. How is it serving you?