One of the most common problems I see with companies that have had a strong run of growth and success, is the mindset of the leadership team. Young teams who have done well will often become headstrong and overconfident. And while it's critical to have a strong, healthy ego, an overdeveloped ego can quickly limit the growth of the leadership team and the company overall.
Healthy egos are confident and act decisively because they know what is needed to be an effective leader. They also know that their power doesn't come from the fact that they are always right or have expansive power over outcomes. Rather they have a good awareness about their natural limitations of their knowledge and influence and know how to act accordingly.
When assessing a leader's ego, I look for some common thinking traps that tell me they may have an overdeveloped sense of self and their power that will limit their future growth. Here are some of the most common, so you can look at your own thinking and see if you might need to readjust your perspective to reach the next level.
"I'm important because I'm needed."
Everyone wants to feel needed. It gives you a sense of belonging and attachment to other people. In leadership however, it typically means that you have some type of control or power.
Strong leaders work to make themselves obsolete so their people are self-sufficient. This allows them to go on to tackle bigger and better problems. Weak leaders hold on to control and decision-making so they remain critical to the current processes. And while it may give them job security, it will limit their professional growth.
"People look up to me because I'm smart."
I work with a lot of CEOs who are off-the-charts smart. Some are exceptional technologists, creative marketers, master negotiators, even brilliant surgeons. They have excelled in their fields to become the best.
The problem is that if their ego and self-worth is built on being really smart, then they will be less likely to hire people much smarter than them in the key domains of the business. Strong leaders know they need to surround themselves with people smarter than them in key domains. Weak leaders surround themselves with people they can outwit and control.
"It's bad if I make a mistake."
Many leaders have advanced quickly in their roles by being really good at what they do and being right the vast majority of the time. This builds a sense of self-worth based on being correct. The challenge with this is that when you move up into higher levels of leadership there is a vast amount of uncertainty.
Strong leaders know how to gather data, quantify risk, and make critical decisions at the right time knowing they will be wrong at times. Weak leaders belabor decisions or spend too much energy trying to squeeze out all uncertainty thus missing opportunities and wasting resources.
"I can never show doubt."
Unfortunately, in many corporate environments, doubt is seen as weakness. While there is a time and place where decisions need to be made quickly and clearly, most business matters don't need to be solved immediately.
Strong leaders know that expressing their own doubts or conflicted thinking will make it okay for the people around them to present different ideas and opinions that can lead to better discussion and solutions. Weak leaders try to put on a convincing face, even when inside they are not so sure.
"I need to win all the time."
One of the clearest tell-tale signs of a struggling leader is when they strive to win every debate with their teams. The better ones treat every discussion as a high school debate, attacking everyone's points and presenting a litany of reasons on why their approach is better.
The worse ones dive into ad hominem attacks on people's characters and dredge up things from the past to undermine their positions. Strong leaders strive for the best decision the entire team will support, even if it's not theirs or the one they really want. Weak leaders keep a running score and look to win arguments.
No leader is perfect and every leader will fall into one or more of these traps time and again. Being open to feedback from your team and using a coach who can observe and give you pointers are great ways to accelerate the process. Strong leaders know that the trick is realizing that you've fallen into one and quickly getting out of it.