EGO – a three-letter word widely misunderstood in the world. Most people cringe or have some sort of negative reaction when they hear it, even if non-verbally. My goal for you reading this? To get you thinking differently.
For years I’ve been hearing this word thrown around, often too loosely. Rarely is the word used by us humans with an understanding of what it really means and the value it has. Usually your responses sound something like “oh, Jim…yeah, he has a big ego,” or to explain why your spouse or colleague pisses people off, “she’s an egomaniac.” Think about it, every one of you has probably uttered a very similar comment.
Now, let’s stop and actually engage our brains and think about what it is we see and how we’re feeling. I promise you all, by the end of this brain blab, you’ll see why E-G-O is a gift…the negative reaction you’re having is because that individual manages it very poorly or you lack it which causes you to gag at the mere sight of it.
So, what do we see? A silverback gorilla who loves being in charge and in control? The lead dog, asserting their influence and command? Use whatever analogy you prefer, they all work. Now ask yourself this question…what would happen without those personalities in the meeting? Plenty of you are saying, “Peace and quiet, Ross” in your minds right now. Yes, quite possibly! But do you really want total peace and quiet in your organization? What will happen if you do? Do you think your firm will grow? What about decisions, do you think they get made quick enough? Meetings; do you think they end quickly and efficiently? I would bet the answer to those questions will often be ‘NO’. Starting to trigger anything? See some of it in your own life or company?
You’re in your conference room with your team. You have a real problem, the inevitable SNAFU just occurred and it happened with your largest customer. Time to solve the problem. “Okay team, let’s figure this out, what should we do?” Silence…is anybody home McFly? Are you people alive? Do you have a brain? All legitimate questions you’ve asked yourself. Well if you have zero ego on your team, that’s exactly what you’ll get: silence, with people looking around the room wondering, “who’s gonna step out?” And then it happens, it has to be YOU! Your team labels you an egomaniac. Now, you might be! But without any of it around you, you’re in trouble. Nothing gets done. Or, if it does, it takes too long, wasting your precious time, energy, and more importantly…money. Let’s face it, do we live in a slow world where nothing changes, where your competitors aren’t constantly thinking of new ways to crush you? Not unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a closet for the last 30 years. If we don’t take charge, assert ourselves and make it happen, it won’t. You’ll become defunct and so will your business. I’ll spare you the thousands of stories and examples I could use and would rather you think of your own because you probably have plenty!
All of this talk and controversy over ego got me thinking quite a bit. Forget research, I started looking at life and people. I started thinking about all the people and teams we’ve coached and developed over the years. My solution or discovery was something I’ve coined “The Death Triangle”, what actually causes people to crash and burn. Yes, it often can start with ego, but that’s not the killer. We know tons of people with big egos who are awesome leaders and great friends and wonderful/parents/spouses.
Here’s the first wrong turn, when their ego is combined with super-competitiveness. Now you’ve gone from wanting to be in charge and control to having to win. For you, it’s not a ‘sometimes’ thing, it’s an ‘all the time’ thing. You’re overly aggressive and might run people over to get what you want. Congratulations, you won, but you’ve managed to alienate all the people around you in your life.
And the unfortunate part, similar to ego, competitiveness is a good thing. It all depends on how you manage it. Is winning fun? You bet your ass it is and for anyone who says it isn’t, they’re full of crap.
So you’re now 2 for 2. Strong ego, check. Incredibly competitive, check. Off you go, ready to conquer the world. But along the way, you took your second wrong turn. The name of that road you just turned down, “Over-confident Avenue!” You’ve had so much success to this point because your ego and competitiveness are gifts, properly managed. You’ve won games or tournaments. Maybe you’re smart so you’ve created something brilliant. You’ve built a business and all signs point to you being a total Rock Star. But my friend, you’ve just become a legend in your own mind and that legend has turned you into a know-it-all. Spare me your song and dance about how your homework and data tells you that your opinion is right. Spare me your stories about why you must be right because you’re smart, other smart people agree with you and it’s worked for 30 years for you. Well maybe everyone else around you was afraid to tell you how they really felt. And let’s pick on a few of the worst offenders; engineers, accountants and techy wizards. They love data and their data tells them “I must be right.” But they miss the part about others not giving a shit! Don’t tell people you’re right, whether because your data says so or your 30 years of success show it. Let others figure it out. I remember a quote a friend and colleague said to me one day: “you might be right, but you’re not relevant.” I think a friend of his told him that one day. It stuck with me. People don’t really give a shit if you’re right all the time, especially when you act like it. Humility is a powerful thing.
You’re in the Hall of Fame now, 3 for 3. Big ego, overly competitive, and overly confident. What I didn’t tell you is what HOF it’s for…you’re in the Hall of Fame of World-Class Assholes. Right next to Bernie Madoff. A room full of know-it-alls surrounded by intelligent idiots.
Now you have completed your journey to the “Death Triangle”. Unfortunately, like its cousin Bermuda, we never find you and you disappear. Before long, you’re forgotten.
The good news, you can save yourself. If on your journey to the “Death Triangle,” you have managed to build excellent relationships with people in your life, if you actually care and are able to show it, if you practice teamwork, if you emote compassion and empathy and you admit when you ARE wrong…then you might be given grace. If you haven’t, you’ll probably die a painful death. Or at the very least you’ll suffer a major stroke, one you may never come back from.
I don’t hire these people! If I find out I have one in my organization, I give them the chance to fix it immediately and if they don’t, they quickly join the ranks of the unemployed.
Ross Giombetti, President