Published: 30th March 2022
E-Canteen Fundas: As a leader, between your ego and your team, who would you rather see win?
Your ego could be your greatest asset or your biggest liability, depending on how you use it. Be aware of harmful egoistic reactions such as comparing, being defensive and showcasing your brilliance
‘Rinku, did you hear how Sushmita spoke about the work their group has done in the meeting?’ said Rahul. ‘I feel she is too egoistic. Fine, they did some good work but why go on about it? Leaders should be humble, have no ego.’
‘But I felt she was presenting her team in a good light,’ said Rinku. ‘That much pride should be taken when one does some good work, right? I’m sure there is a balance between ego and humility, right bhaiyya?’
‘Good question,’ said Rakesh. ‘Our ego is not really a bad thing. It can be our greatest asset or our biggest liability — if we don’t understand it. As we know, ego can spark drive and intent to achieve while a lack of ego can lead to apathy and insecurity. Authors David Marcum and Steven Smith have addressed the issue of the costs of ego in their book, Egonomics. They found that ego costs 6 to 15 per cent of total revenue in business, over a third of failed businesses and bad executive decisions are due to ego issues and 81 per cent of managers push their decisions by ego and not by the quality of the idea. If we understand ego, we understand the human side of business and that’s how we can make it a great asset.’
‘Wow, 6 to 15 per cent is a huge cost,’ said Rahul. ‘I always knew ego was bad. But I didn’t realise it could be an asset as well.’
‘Firstly, understand that, as with everything, ego also works in a continuum,’ said Rakesh. ‘It’s not all good or bad — there are degrees and our ego moves between good on one hand and bad on the other. It works best when it’s balanced. Ego also costs us most in a few specific moments when we get egotistically hijacked. These big moments make or break things for us and if we can handle them, we can make a success of anything.’
‘How can we identify harmful ego, bhaiyya?’ ask Rinku.
‘Harmful ego shows up in these following behaviours according to the authors,’ said Rakesh and added, 'Comparision with others, being defensive, showcasing our brilliance and seeking acceptance.’
‘Can you explain a bit, bhaiyya?’ asked Rahul.
‘Sure,’ said Rakesh. ‘Comparing is an egoistic reaction that reduces our competitive edge. It indicates our uncertainty about ourselves and our work and on the other hand, shows we are insecure about others. And when we get defensive, we tend to defend only ourselves and our work and miss out on the best ideas from others. We ignore feedback and stick to defending a single position closing out all other possibilities. And thirdly, when we showcase our brilliance, we try to prove that we’re superior to others, which makes people wary. In fact, they become less receptive to our ideas when we push too hard, even if we have better ideas. And since our focus is on showcasing, we stop sharing and lose out on a variety of perspectives. And lastly, our behaviour of seeking acceptance is bad for the team because we do anything to please others and accept a lot of bad ideas. It indicates too little ego. Be aware of these four behaviours which indicate harmful ego that can cost you.’
‘Hmm…and what about good ego, bhaiyya?’ asked Rinku.
‘Good ego comes from cultivating qualities such as humility, curiosity and veracity,’ said Rakesh. ‘Let’s understand humility first because it is wrongly understood as being the opposite of ego. Humility is not a lack of ego but the correct balance between too much ego and too little ego, a balanced self-respect that keeps you in a healthy space between thinking too much or too little of ourselves. Be aware of the good you bring, but also stay grounded. Humility comes from committing to learning, to the progress of your team, from accepting that you are unique, but also, that there’s much to learn and achieve. When we are committed to progress and learning, we don't have time for ego, because learning and ego do not coexist.’
‘But bhaiyya, will humility not take away from our intensity?’ asked Rinku.
‘Excellent question,’ said Rakesh. ‘It’s important not to lose intensity or intent by thinking wrongly that intensity is the opposite of being in a state of humility. We normally see intensity as being emotional, while humility is seen as a state of harmony, of zero intensity. In reality, we must not get sidetracked by intense egoistic reactions such as getting angry, irritated and emotional, and get hijacked, which can cost us the big moments. Instead, we should use our humility, as a way to learn, to be in a state of intense engagement, enthusiasm and excited energy. To practice this behaviour, separate the idea from the person — be intense about the idea and not about the identity. Don't take it personally and focus on progress and learning!’
‘And what about curiosity and veracity, bhaiyya?’ asked Rinku.
‘A state of curiosity makes us open to new things,’ said Rakesh. ‘Ideas develop fully and not partially. Curiosity brings in quality information and hastens progress. Similarly, veracity sticks to truth, the big and real picture. It makes us open to seeing things as they are — not what we think, but what is actually happening. It encourages feedback. Encourage dissent and helps people voice opinions to see the truth. Speak in a way that doesn't provoke others to be defensive. By cultivating the behaviours of humility, curiosity and veracity, we can make our ego our greatest asset.'
‘Thanks, bhaiyya,’ said Rahul. ‘That was very interesting. Now to make my ego work for me and my team and not lose big moments by using it wrongly.’
Pro Tip: Your ego could be your greatest asset or your biggest liability depending on how you use it. Be aware of harmful egoistic reactions such as comparing, being defensive, showcasing your brilliance and seeking acceptance, which can cost you. Cultivate behaviours such as humility, curiosity and veracity to benefit from good ego.