Executive ego: check it at the door

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Print this page Genevieve Roberts

Do you ever find yourself:
- Taking on tasks that others should be doing, but none can do them as well as you?
- Watching as others roll their eyes while you expound on the reasons that the latest change must be made?
- Moving forward with your idea although no one else supports it?
- Speculating as to why no one can meet your standards?
- Wondering why those reporting to you don’t display more initiative and make more decisions independently?
- Asking why decisions take so long to get made?
- Reflecting on why successful leaders don’t emerge from your team?
- Parking in an Executive Reserved Space?

You (and those around you!) may be suffering from Executive Ego or hubris – defined as excessive pride, often taking the form of a boastful comparison of the self to the divine, the gods, or other higher powers. It is most often used as a negative term implying arrogant, excessive self-pride.

But wait, didn’t your ego and drive get you where you are today? Probably so…

Personal and professional success requires self-confidence.  When ego is in check, that same self-confidence, energy, determination and ambition create fantastic results for you, your company and your team.  A healthy ego is obviously critical to being a successful executive and human being.  Your ego and drive allow you to:

- Compete successfully in the marketplace – win the big customers
- Establish and exceed goals
- Make tough, but necessary decisions
- Make quick decisions when needed
- Analyze problems and develop solutions

When you demonstrate Executive Ego, you display an excessive reliance on your own ideas and skills to the detriment of the team and the organization.  No one’s ideas are ever good enough, the other managers aren’t smart enough, no one is fast enough – so it’s all up to you.

When it’s all about you, you drain all the energy, initiative and commitment out of the room (and the organization).

Think about Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made the treacherous crash-landing on New York’s Hudson River earlier this year.  He landed his jetliner on the Hudson minutes after both engines failed, then walked the length of the drifting Airbus A320 twice to make certain that all 155 people on board got off safely.  When honored in his hometown, he talks about the team not himself.

“Circumstance determined that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to fly on that particular flight on that particular day,” Sullenberger said. “But I know I can speak for the entire crew when I tell you we were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do.”

So what to do if you want to put the reins on the executive ego?

Seek first to understand then to be understood – Steven Covey’s 5th habit from his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  This one habit of highly effective people is the one area that you need to most develop.

- Listen specifically for the strong points of another’s opinion.  Comment on these.  Play them back.  Recognize the contributor of a good idea.  Ask questions, ask for implementation ideas, and ask for others’ thoughts. 
- Watch others’ body language when you are talking – are their arms crossed?  Are they looking down or looking at you?  What is their expression?
- Watch your body language and non-verbals when others are talking.  Are your arms crossed?  Do you sit behind your desk rather than at the table? Are you texting or engaged in other activities rather than giving your guest your full attention?
- Be brave - Tell your team you are working on this.  Ask them to challenge you when you are not listening or are failing to respond to data and feedback is at odds with your approach.  Then, reward (don’t punish!) the person that steps up to the plate to tell you that your ego is in the way and you are “doing it again.”

Of course, if you’re really suffering from Executive Ego, you probably won’t see yourself here.  If you receive a forwarded copy of this article, you may get the Ego check you need!

Genevieve Roberts is managing principal of Richmond-based Titan Group LLC and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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