Tuesday, July 28, 2009

7 Common "Ego Traps" for Leaders

Leadership, when it's good and strong and true, isn't about ego. It's about stepping boldly into a larger story, and inviting other people to come along with you. It's about surrendering your life to a Power and a purpose greater than yourself, and serving those who have chosen to follow you into that great adventure.

It's most definitely not about you.

The great enemy of great leadership is ego. We've all known leaders who make their leadership about themselves--they claim to serve and follow a larger vision, but it's pretty clear that their leadership is ultimately about their own fame, their success, their respect, their me-driven legacy, their control, their "rightness" about it all. It's not pretty to watch, and even less pleasant to experience. Ego-based leadership damages people.

But ego is a subtle demon. The thing about getting caught up in your ego is...it's self-blinding. It's like broccoli in your teeth; you can't see it until someone points it out. And even then, you might not believe them (ego isn't quick to listen to critique), so you go looking for a mirror.

So, I've decided to create a series of posts that you might think of as a kind of mirror for leaders. In each post, I'll name one of 7 common "ego traps" that leaders fall into. These traps are a little more subtle that obvious megalomania, but each of these can nonetheless seriously undermine a leader's effectiveness. I know this not just because I've seen it; I'm a recovering ego junkie myself. Truth is, I've fallen into almost every one of these at some point in my own leadership journey.

So try these on and see what you think. Have you ever fallen prey to one of these subtle ego traps? Here's the first:

  • Ego Trap #1: "I'm the only one who knows the right way to do it" -- This is the subtle (maybe even secret) belief that I know more and am smarter than the people I lead. This isn't about having more experience in a certain arena; it's about believing, deep down, that you are a step above in intelligence, insight, creativity and strategic thinking than everyone else on your team. The result is that you spend most of your time persuading and pressing others to do it your way and almost none of your time listening and learning from the people on your team. One famous leader I know of actually once said--in total sincerity--"I can't help it that God has given me the burden of always being right."

You think you know better than everyone you lead? Think again. Leadership is a privilege others give to you as a trust. It's not a badge proving your superiority as a human being. The best leaders, in fact, make it a practice to surround themselves with people who are clearly smarter, more creative and wiser than themselves.


Michelle Brown said...

Michael, this hit a sensitive spot. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.


James Hammonds said...

Great post, MIchael. One thing that hits me as I'm reading this is that the "I'm always right" attitude can come from a place of insecurity. Definitely something to be mindful of the next time that I feel like I need to be right in front of those I'm attempting to lead.

Michael D. Warden said...

So true James, and it's something I imagine we all struggle with--I know I do. And yet I continue to find that a key part of great leadership is letting go of the need to "be right." Your job is to lead; let those who follow be the brilliant ones.