Leadership optimize

Dealing with the ego elephant in the room

Egomaniacs, swell-heads, know-it-alls, showboats, show ponies, narcissists, ego-trippers, big heads, and peacocks – work with one of these?
Egomaniacs, swell-heads, know-it-alls, showboats, show ponies, narcissists, ego-trippers, big heads, and peacocks – work with one of these?

Before starting this post let's be clear – a healthy ego is one with genuine confidence and drive but are realistic in that the world wasn't created by themselves. In Australia, showboats shouldn't be misinterpreted as Tall Poppy Syndrome either – where basically a high performer is being envied by lesser performing employees.

I'm talking about the people who clearly have narcissist tendencies that affect business and team dynamics. While it seems unclear whether the species are born believing they were the centre of the universe or previous success has fed the beast into Mr Hyde is murky. What is clear is nobody wants to openly admit or talk about the ego elephant in a room.

Companies and teams will talk over and over about innovation, leadership, teamwork, and communication, but, skip the sensitive topic of overbearing and harmful egos. In fact, a big ego can bear a great weight to the disruption and outcome of all the aforementioned topics.

A swell-head in your team might not be seen as a huge problem and may be a part of any office environment, and can even be seen as a source of amusement. However you might want to consider this: egomaniacs have a trait of conceit to gain value in an excess to that which he/she gives. It is said they exploit the altruism, ignorance, and irrationality of others by fraud or coercive force.

The problem is an unhealthy ego is hard to measure compared to the bottom line of a business. Only secondary or personal evidence can be an indicator that something is wrong – which some put down to "personality differences" between employees.

However, here are some tips for sorting the bad egos apart from the good:

=> Consistantly use the word "I", "me", or "myself" three times when writing a sentence.
=> Always working out how to beat their rivals inside and outside the office
=> Obsessed with industry trends and competitors so they're not seen as being out of touch.
=> Never lose or think they deserve to lose.
=> Claim other employees work as their own.
=> Disagree with other people's opinions just because of who they are in an organisation. For example, "What would Tom know!" even when Tom has a valid and rational point.

So what's the antidote? Well if the person is aware of their impact then learning a bit of humility is obviously the answer. Whether you want to deliver this yourself or wait for karma to swing around and bite the egomaniac is up to you. Certainly people can change their ways. Some point to Steve Jobs as a classic example of someone who has learnt humility after being sacked by the very company he helped create back in the 80's.

And how about at work? What should you do? In an interview with Guy Kawasaki last year, Steven Smith, co-author of the book "egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability)" suggests the following:

"Run to the nearest exit and find somewhere else to work, but if that’s not an option, then fighting their ego with your own isn’t the answer. Egotists rarely win unless they’re in positional power, then you can’t do much. But if they’re not your boss, then sit down and talk to them about what you’re noticing, and make sure it’s not your own ego."

If you have a hunch that you're suffering from what Susanne Gaddis calls "Cyclops Syndrome", then it's time for a reality check. Gaddis suggests you assess your "I" focused language, stop oneupmanship, or how every topic relates to yourself in some warped way. Seek a trusted co-worker for their assessment.

Feel free to add your comments below on how you deal with these characters at your workplace.
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