A Leader's Best Friend: the Chief Ego Deflator

Businessman with feet up at desk, on telephone
Businessman with feet up at desk, on telephone

Few things are as damaging to a leader as an oversized ego. Left unchecked, a big ego can lead to arrogance and the leader starts to assume that his or her judgment, creativity and intelligence trumps everyone else's. A big-ego leader can quickly become dismissive, irritable, or worse, tyrannical. When a leader's ego is pleased only by getting its way, and when follower's actions are geared toward avoiding the leader's displeasure, a leader's success is doomed.

To be clear, people want to follow a leader who is confident, strong and resolved. A healthy ego is, in fact, necessary for leading effectively. But there's a difference between a healthy ego and an oversized one. The difference hinges on humility. A healthy ego recognizes that it exists in relation to the egos of others, and it isn't threatened when those egos are healthy too. A healthy ego recognizes its own imperfections and limitations, and it doesn't hold others to a standard of perfection either. A healthy ego is humble enough to know that it isn't the center of the world.

The challenge is, a healthy ego can slip into an unhealthy one. Usually this happens after a leader has had a series of successes and he becomes overly confident and assured. He may start to place bigger bets, assert bolder opinions, and walk with more swagger. His successes have become "proof" that he is just a little bit better and more important than everyone else. Before long, the leader has become untethered from the grounding effects of humility.

To prevent ego inflation, every leader needs to have a Chief Ego Deflator. Every leader needs at least one person who can hold up a mirror to a leader so he can see when his head is getting too big. Often times this role is best served by someone who knew the leader before he became a leader, such as a spouse, childhood friend or college classmate. What matters most is that the role be filled by someone who can call bullshit on a leader without having to worry that the leader will punish them. In other words, it needs to be someone who can "get through" to the leader, and puncture the leader's ego enough that some of the hot air will be released.

Are you a leader? Do you and the people you're leading a favor, appoint a Chief Ego Deflator to keep your ego in check.

Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting. In latest book, Leaders Open Doors (www.leadersopendoors.com), became the top-selling leadership training book on Amazon. Bill is also the author of Courage Goes to Work, an international bestselling book that introduces the concept of courage-building. He is also the author of Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace, an off-the-shelf training toolkit that organizations use to build workplace courage. Bill has worked with thousands of executives from top organizations, including NASA, Accenture, CNN, UBS Bank, Spanx, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more at www.billtreasurer.com or www.couragebuilding.com.