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The Costs of Ego, Part 2

In follow-up to Part 1:

Why Businesses Fail

Dr. Paul Nutt of Ohio State University conducted more than two decades of research, with hundreds of organizations, on why business decisions go awry. He discovered three key reasons why 50 percent of decisions fail:

1. More than one-third of all failed business decisions are driven by ego.

2. Nearly two-thirds of executives never explore alternatives once they make up their minds.

3. Eighty-one percent of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the relevance of their ideas.

4 Warning Signs of Big Ego

Your coworkers and team members are usually aware – much earlier than you’ll ever figure out – that your ego has become overinflated. Here are four telltale signs:

1. You find yourself being defensive. Defending ideas ultimately turns into becoming defensive.

2. You continually compare yourself to others. In truth, being too competitive actually makes you less competitive.

3. You seek acceptance to justify your ego needs. You crave respect and recognition from others, which eventually interferes with your success.

4. You make a point of showcasing your brilliance.

High-performing individuals have inherently strong competitive drives. But what happens when competitiveness is reinforced by success? Our ego says, “Right on! That worked. I’ll continue using my competitiveness and even kick it up a notch.”

Your ego may be in control if you experience the following:

  • Viewing a colleague as a rival and planning how to “beat” him/her
  • Taking it personally when someone disagrees with your ideas
  • Disagreeing with someone simply because you didn’t come up with the idea first
  • Prematurely criticizing the competition’s strategies without considering their value
  • Compulsively following a competitor’s lead, just to “keep up with the Joneses”
  • Comparing others’ external environments to your own (signs of status or wealth, without regard for inner values)

According to the research in egonomics, 63 percent of businesspeople say ego negatively impacts work performance on an hourly or daily basis, while an additional 31 percent say it happens weekly.

Regardless of the subjective nature of such research, what’s certain is that otherwise talented and intelligent leaders compromise their performance by mismanaging their egos. Ego contributes to the downfall of the 35 percent of managers who take new jobs and fail, quit or are asked to leave within 18 months.

Solutions

The hardest side of business to master is the human component. Entire industries are now dedicated to providing training and development to organizations challenged by the behavior of their “human capital.”

Ultimately, however, it’s up to each of us to manage our egos: conversation by conversation, project by project, meeting by meeting.

3 Keys to a Healthy Ego

The health of a company’s culture is a reflection of the health of our conversations. Ego is a continuum: At one extreme, there is too much. When we have a big ego, we are overconfident and arrogant. When we have too little, we lack confidence and self-esteem.

There are three keys to developing balance:

1. Humility

2. Curiosity

3. Veracity

Humility is the fulcrum that prevents a healthy ego from becoming unhealthy. It has the unique ability to open minds by keeping us curious and interested in others.

Unless we’re ready to listen and learn, curiosity and veracity won’t even have a chance to enter the game. Discussions and debates that facilitate progress require us to temporarily suspend what we think is best for us so we can consider the best interests of the business.

Humility Is Key

Without losing confidence in who we are or lessening the importance of what we’ve achieved, humility creates a desire to reach the next level of performance. It doesn’t lose sight of “me,” but it also prevents our personal needs and agendas from interfering with open dialogue and intense debate.

Humility swallows excessive ego and channels our ambitions into the success of “we,” rather than a selfish and short-lived agenda of “me.” It’s not the equivalent of being weak, ignored, indifferent, boring or a pushover. True humility is characterized by confidence, ambition and willpower.

When Jim Collins conducted his research for Good to Great, humility was one of only two characteristics he found that distinguish those who can lead top-performing companies from those who can transform their companies into great performers. (The other trait was intense professional will.)

Once humility creates an open mind, curiosity is the active ingredient that drives the exploration of ideas. It gives us permission and courage to test what we think, feel and believe to be true, reminding us we don’t know everything. When we lead with questions rather than answers, curiosity can strip us of an agenda and stop ego from spiraling out of control.

Veracity – the habitual pursuit of the truth – is the third principle of ego management. It’s not that people don’t want the truth; after all, we all say we do. But we often don’t want all of it. We don’t want the part that’s hard to hear or doesn’t support our agenda.

If openness and progress are the outcomes of humility, and innovation is the aim of curiosity, then veracity is the light that exposes the truths hidden in the shadows of our habits and comfort zones.

This article is attributed to Jerry Pinney, small business consulting author; Jerry Pinney & Associates