No matter what position you’re in, you face the same stumbling block to effective leadership that everybody else does: the human ego. Ego-driven leaders have caused more business missteps than anyone can imagine. This problem begins when we “edge good out” and put ourselves in. We get a distorted image of our own importance and see ourselves as the center of the universe.
Ego manifests in two ways. The first is false pride — when you think more of yourself than you should. You push and shove for credit and spend much of your time promoting yourself. The second way is as fear or self-doubt — thinking less of yourself than you should. Consumed with your own shortcomings, you are too hard on yourself.
It’s easy to understand that self-doubt comes from a lack of self-esteem; people afflicted with it act as if they are worth less than others. It is less obvious that people with false pride lack self-esteem because they behave as if they are worth more than others. Yet these prideful people are actually trying to make up for their lack of self-esteem. They overcompensate for their unsatisfying feelings by attempting to control everything and everybody around them.
It’s interesting to see how false pride and self-doubt play out in managers. When managers are addicted to ego affliction, it erodes their effectiveness.
Managers dominated by false pride are often called controllers. Even when they don’t know what they are doing, they have a high need for power and control. When it’s clear to everyone they are wrong, they will insist they are right. These folks aren’t much for supporting their people, either. If everyone is upbeat and confident, controllers throw on the wet blanket. They support their bosses over their people because they want to climb the hierarchy and be part of the bosses’ crowd.
At the other end of the spectrum are the fear-driven managers, who are often characterized as do-nothing bosses. They are described as never around, always avoiding conflict and not very helpful. They often leave their people alone, even when these direct reports are insecure and need help. Do-nothing bosses don’t believe in themselves or trust their own judgment. They value others’ thoughts more than their own — especially thoughts from those to whom they report. As a result, they rarely speak out and support their own people. Under pressure, they tend to defer to whoever has the most power.
If any of this sounds a bit too close for comfort, don’t be alarmed. The good news is there are antidotes. The antidote for false pride is humility. True leadership — the essence of what people long for and desperately want to follow — is characterized by appropriate humility and elicits the best from people.
Jim Collins supports this truth in Good to Great. He found two characteristics that describe great leaders: will and humility. Will is the determination to follow through on a vision, mission or goal. Humility is the capacity to realize that leadership is not about the leader; it’s about those being led and what they need.
According to Collins, when things are going well for ego-driven leaders, they look in the mirror, beat their chests, and tell themselves how good they are. When things go wrong, they look out the window and blame everyone else. On the other hand, when things go well for great leaders, they look out the window and give everybody else the credit. When things go wrong, these humble leaders look in the mirror and ask, “What could I have done differently that would have allowed these people to be as great as they could be?”
The antidote for fear or self-doubt is love. Do you have kids? Do you love your kids? Does this love for your kids completely depend on their success? Few people would answer yes because they love their kids unconditionally. Try accepting that unconditional love for yourself. Trust that you have all the love you need. All you have to do is open yourself to it.
Ken Blanchard is a best-selling author, speaker and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Cos. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.