Although we all like to claim that we do not care about things like our position in society or our status among our colleagues, the truth is we do. Some more than others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with feeding the ego, but it unfortunately it has a nasty habit of getting in the way. Our big thinkers, our movers and shakers within a company aren’t necessarily the best and the brightest – sometimes they’re simply the people with the loudest voices and the most flare for projecting the roles they assume. In these situations, 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. Again, most of us strongly believe our ego is healthy, contributing to self-confidence, optimism and success. It drives entrepreneurial behavior. It produces competition and innovation. And indeed, most of us don’t have overinflated egos. However, we’re capable of letting them run amok and when this happens our personal success and organization’s performance pay the price.
David Marcum and Steven Smith write about the costs of ego in Egonomics (Fireside, 2007):
- The person who develops an idea trumps the quality of that idea
- Dismissal of team members lacking status
- Hearing, but not listening
- Failure to challenge status quo
- Candid discussion saved for outside the meeting
- Failures being buried and never mentioned again
- Silos created and tolerated
- Meetings being dominated by one or a few individuals
- Fear of making mistakes or admitting them
- Small ideas and no tolerance for risk
Companies can be populated with talented, high-IQ people with no shortage of vision, education, experience or good intentions, yet they may still have an undercurrent of out-of-control egos responsible for huge losses in productivity and profits. Power is a dangerous thing for design and innovation. Behavior, decisions and strategy become mired in self-aggrandizement and a sense of self-image that is baseless. Insights become inconvenient and strategies become just another example of “me too” thinking.
The result? Creative thinking and breakthrough ideas die in the womb. Businesses stagnate and eventually become irrelevant. And that’s no good for anyone.