“More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.” Albert Einstein
Rooted in self-esteem, ego is where one’s feelings and experiences react to the demands of social and professional environments. Ego in leadership is like being a tight-rope walker. When leaders limit their impact due to an unbalanced walk, they stumble and eventually fall.
Everyone needs a certain amount of ego to achieve, to innovate, to have the courage to try something new, and to conquer new frontiers. However, an ego has two faces to the coin. When an ego is out of balance it shows a lack of self-esteem. Rather behaving with self-doubt or with false pride either are different sides of the same coin and need to be delicately balanced.
An inflated ego, or too much self-esteem, can be overbearing to others; while a timid disposition or deflated ego doesn’t appear confident. They are both protective reactions to mask possible insecurities.
An unbalanced ego overshadows talent by projecting the past into the present. When leaders mature to the point where their ego is balanced, they become more open to communication, even in the form of criticism, because they are not easily swayed by the words of others.
When leading themselves, leaders must determine if they are a “deflator” or an “inflator.” In other words, does criticism trigger a defense mechanism causing one’s ego to deflate or inflate?
Inflated egos don’t need praise and reassurance and are often insensitive to others. On the other hand, deflated egos take everything personally and fear making a mistake or the loss of relationships.
A leader with an inflated ego is powered by interpretation, justification, proving, siding with, arguing against, judging, negating, denying and embellishing. This blocks success and creates division. It prevents otherwise good leaders from ultimately living up to their full potential.
Likewise, a deflated ego can undermine growth and strip a leader’s confidence. While not as noticeable, a deflated ego can be just as harmful to a leader who wants to earn the respect of his or her team. Both the inflated and deflated ego can be equally unproductive for leaders.
Striking a Balance
“Life is like a bicycle, to keep balanced you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
Everyone has an ego but good leaders keep it in a healthy balance and don’t allow certain circumstances to knock their balance off kilter. Self-awareness and maturity allow an individual to keep an inflated or deflated ego in check.
For starters, we must be willing to listen to feedback but avoid letting someone’s opinion of us become our reality. The ego is like a built-in bodyguard or protective big brother. Its top priority is to protect, and it can convince you that it should be in total control when facing a raw insecurity being exposed.
When negative feelings arise, it is the ego being threatened. The ego puts up a very tough fight. However, it also keeps a person from healing or understanding the limitless power to change the things in their life they don’t like.
It’s the art of understanding an offense. When I have received criticism in the past, the first feeling I had was being offended by what was being said about me. I had to think about what it meant to “take” offense to something someone else was saying. Taking offense is an active choice, and one that an unbalanced ego often makes.
I look at it as a baseball. If someone threw a baseball at another person, they have a choice to catch it or let it pass by. It’s the same thing with an offense. It’s a choice of taking offense or letting it slide by. If someone catches a baseball, what is their first reaction? It would likely be to throw the ball back. Leaders must understand that if they choose to be offended, they have a responsibility regarding what to do next.
It’s the same way when listening to what someone else is saying. Confidence is silent, but insecurities are loud. Often, when we are offended or hurt by what people say, we may not really be listening to their meaning. We are just hearing words. If we truly listen, our balanced ego can learn not to pick up that baseball and throw it back. Instead, we can get to the core of the issue, respond appropriately and grow in the process.
It’s true everyone must have ego to function. However, it’s important to keep it in balance because an unchecked ego can become like an addiction and control a person’s actions, thoughts and behavior. It’s important to remember we can’t control how people treats us, but we can control how we react to how people treat us.