Check Your Ego at the Door

A leader of any organization has many enemies. Perhaps the biggest enemy of all, though, is one that emanates from within--ego.

In any organization, everyone plays a role in the success of the operation. Not everyone is compensated the same way; not everyone has the same benefits. Despite differences in pay and perks, however, everyone employed by an institution influences how it fares. And anyone, at any time, can cause an organization tremendous harm, a fact too often forgotten (if ever known) by too many leaders.

Clearly, many presidents wouldn't agree with me. How else can one explain the actions of disgraced presidents in the college world (as well, obviously, as those in the for-profit and rest of the non-profit worlds)? Inflated egos and a sense of entitlement claimed their positions, as well they should have.

I was paid well as a college president; in truth, I would have done the job for far less. Whenever I had my annual review, I never questioned what I was told my salary would be--except to argue on a number of occasions I should be paid less, not more, because financial pressures prevented me from giving those working with me the same percentage increases I was offered. I truly believed we were all in the same boat and shared in the college's success.

When one starts believing what people are saying or writing, when one begins to conclude the institution cannot survive without you, one is standing, not so firmly, on a very slippery slope. A college president (or any leader of any organization) may be paid better and have more "extras" than everyone else, but a president is not more important than others, and one should never think one is indispensable. One might try remembering, too, all those who lie buried in cemeteries across the land who felt they were indispensable and their institutions couldn't survive without them.

Maybe the best way to think of this issue is through the George Herbert proverb of a lost nail that Ben Franklin modified and included in Poor Richard's Almanac: "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for want of care about a horseshoe nail."

Think of all the "nails" in your institution. Think, too, of how, if any of them were lost, one's ongoing battle to advance the institution could also be easily lost.

Egos should be checked at the door. If they are not (and they generally are not), leaders run the risk of a failed tenure or, at the very least, a less successful one.