Commentary: The fine line between confidence and egotism
The following is an commentary for the Opinion page that was submitted to the newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
By Barbara Bell, Nashville, Tennessee
When it comes to leadership, a fine line can exist between confidence and egotism.
Certainly, everyone has an ego and we would achieve little in life if there wasn’t a part of us filled with the conviction that we can tackle the challenges before us.
But unfortunately, sometimes things get out of hand. When a leader has an outsized ego, that can result in the entire team’s morale slumping, with some people beating a hasty retreat and seeking better opportunities elsewhere.
There are other negative impacts on the organization as well. One study revealed that not only are narcissistic leaders less collaborative and less ethical, but the cultures of the organizations they lead also are less collaborative and ethical.
In other words, the bad example those egotistical leaders set permeates everything within the culture.
So it’s important for everyone involved that leaders keep their egos in check even as they exude the confidence that’s needed to inspire those around them. With that in mind, here are a few things leaders need to know about out-of-control egos – and how to correct those problems:
- Ego can make you think of your needs over others. Leaders with big egos are caught up in their own importance, and that can make them blind to the team’s importance. If you see your team’s needs as inconsequential, it’s time to re-evaluate both them and yourself. As a veteran, I can tell you that the military tries to instill in people right from the start the importance of the team because lives depend on how well you work together. Lives may not be on the line at your business or organization, but how the team functions is on the line. And if your ego prevents you from conveying to team members how important they are, and that you care about their needs, the entire enterprise can suffer.
- Ego can cause you to devalue those around you — at a cost. Sometimes people with big egos build themselves up by tearing others down. If members of your team are made to feel that they can do no right, that they aren’t valued, then their self esteem will wane. (I can remember seeing women in the military struggle when they were made to feel that they didn’t belong or that they weren’t qualified.) It’s hard for people to perform at their best when their self esteem is low. Certainly, if team members aren’t performing up to the job’s specifications they need to be corrected and told how to improve. But view this as an opportunity to build them up rather than tear them down.
- Ego can keep you from admitting you don’t know everything. When you see yourself as always right and everyone else always wrong, then you aren’t likely to demonstrate to your team that you value their input. And people want to feel that they are being heard. Let go of the notion that you have to be the smartest person in the room and that you need to know everything to be a great leader. As your leadership responsibilities grow and become increasingly more complex, become comfortable being more of a generalist. Rely on those who work for you as the specialists and lead them in the direction you want them to go.
Maintaining the right amount of ego can be a balancing act. After all, a certain degree of ego is a good thing because it gives you the confidence to soar and to make the tough decisions your job requires.
Just be careful that it’s not allowed to balloon out of control.
Barbara Bell is a professor of leadership at Vanderbilt University and author of Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life's Turbulence and Learning to Fly High . She was one of the first women to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.