Are you letting your ego get in the way of productivity?
A local company called me to come in and do some team building.
I set up a meeting with the senior management team.
I started by asking them why they needed the team building.
They were not at a lack of words when it came to talking about how their teams:
Weren’t hitting quality levels
Didn’t seem to care; they heard things like “it’s not in my job description”
Maxed out their sick time
Got caught up in gossiping and backstabbing
Weren’t taking ownership for problems
The list was long.
I asked them questions about the processes and procedures they had with their teams. How often did they meet with them? What were the meetings like?
What I heard was:
We don’t have much time to meet / maybe once a month
The meetings are quick; we lay out the projects and ask if there are any questions (usually none)
We don’t do 1:1’s; we only meet as a team
I quickly realized:
It’s not your team, it’s you.
The first red flag was that they complained about their people.
The second red flag was what happened when I held up a mirror.
They instantly became defensive.
I shared my observation that the changes really needed to start with them. I explained that just by hearing the way they talked about their teams it was evident to me that what they needed most was to:
Connect with their team members
Acknowledge their value
Provide opportunities for good dialogue
This feedback was not well-received.
They even professed that they already do these things.
I knew if I trained the teams, and not the managers, it would be futile.
This management team needed a good hard look in the mirror.
Needless to say, I didn't do the teambuilding.
💡 But, I learned a couple of very valuable lessons.
I learned that many leaders have an inflated ego — and they don’t want to be told that they are the problem.
AND I learned, ironically, what I wanted those managers to do with their teams, was exactly what I should have done with them. 😮
Had I used empathic listening, I would have connected with them first, empathizing and building trust.
Constructive feedback is not easy for most of us to hear.
A little empathy goes a long way.
A good hard look at myself made me realize it was MY ego that prevented me from listening and empathizing first.
I was eager to be the expert, the one telling them what to do, to prove I knew the answer.
SO, a very crucial skill for leaders, that I saw this senior management team needed — I hadn’t even done myself, because my ego got in the way!
That lesson was tough, but it has served me well over the last 21 years.
If you have trouble listening, being patient, or admitting you need to work on leadership development at all, then you might start by checking your ego.
“If someone corrects you and you feel offended, then you have an ego problem.” -Matthew McConaughey
An ego-driven leader often alienates those who work for them. This leads to a cascade of problems that negatively impact productivity, such as:
employees get discouraged and give up
resentment brews and breeds more negativity
morale is low and stress is high
Showing empathy first can help get the message through that they may have some areas to work on themselves. And that, in turn, will improve their teams’ performance.
So, what can we do to get control of our ego and build a thriving team?
There’s no doubt that listening with empathy is foundational to build trust and connect with your people. And there’s more.
Here are 10 tips I’ve learned for checking your ego at the door.
Become aware that your every action and behavior has an effect on those around you. Strengthen your empathy muscle.
Admit when you’re wrong. Have a willingness to learn from others, accept feedback, and commit to doing better.
Get out of transactional mindset and into transformational mindset.
Encourage employees and acknowledge their hard work and accomplishments, no matter how small.
Be transparent. Make sure your team knows what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you.
Hire people who are smarter or more creative than you. Let them be heard and give them opportunities to provide input.
Give your team all the tools they need to thrive.
Be present and available. Make time for employees to talk with you — listen, acknowledge, and follow through.
Consider giving up some of the superfluous perks that come with your role, especially if they only serve to promote your status (and stroke your ego); a reserved parking spot for example.
Strive to develop humility and express gratitude for all those who helped you get to where you are.
There are times when a leader needs to be tenacious for sure.
But an overactive ego is a liability.
We achieve greater results, healthier relationships, and more productive workplaces when we aren’t ruled by our ego.
It takes selflessness and courage to let go of our ego and lead from the heart.
The choice is ours to make — and the consequences will be evident.
How do you feel when someone has an overactive ego?
I’d love to know — please join the conversation in the comments over on LinkedIn.