For those who follow thought leader and business writer Ryan Holiday, the pitfall of ego is not news. It figured prominently in his books, The Obstacle Is the Way and, more recently, Ego Is the Enemy.
Holiday's perspective on this is clear: In an era marked by ubiquitous participation awards, constant affirmation via social media, and seas of validating memes, it's easy to put oneself on a pedestal. This also makes us vulnerable--our worth falls to pieces when spotlights, affirmations, and commendations don't land squarely on us.
In the context of business, this ego-nurturing can be especially pernicious, resulting in micromanagement, hyper-controlling leadership, and fear mongering.
Still, ego -- at its most basic level -- is not a bad thing. In fact, Chris Edmonds of Fast Company argues convincingly that good leaders very clearly have an ego -- but that it must be put through a crucible of sorts to function in a positive, beneficial way. Instead of being a hindrance to collaboration or growth, it can spur innovation by leveraging our individual skills and assets.
Indeed, Edmonds paints "good ego" as a process of ultimately understanding ourselves in the context of the world around us, and then using this understanding for communal benefit.
Shaping one's ego in a positive way, then, requires that we move past the pitfall of self-centeredness. In the context of business, this means that CEOs must not assume that all successes come solely from them or are attributable solely to them.
To foster an ego that is the best for both you and your company, consider these following practices:
1. Remind yourself that while you are the face of the company, you are not the company.
It's true that some startups are only one-person operations; in these cases, clearly the CEO is the company. However, most are driven by teams of hard-working employees who not only execute the CEO's vision but also contribute to ideation and growth. You, as the CEO, represent that positive growth but are not singularly responsible for it.
2. Regularly solicit feedback for improvement on your performance and ideas for company growth.
It's always tempting to fall into the negative ego trap when your name is on the door; you begin to think you alone make your business run. But ongoing conversation with your team forces you to remember the value they provide and how they are critical to your future growth. This feedback can easily be solicited and provided by email, in secure chat rooms, or face-to-face.
3. As you practice for media campaigns, talks, or interviews, train yourself to reference others in your company.
Also, use inclusive "we" / "us" language to signify the collaborative effort in reaching success. (There's an exception here, however; if you're addressing a mistake your company has made, the buck stops with you. Don't scapegoat.)
4. Spearhead community initiatives.
With you leading the charge on volunteer activities, many of your employees are likely to participate. When the work is done -- often physical or time-consuming work -- you can see the result of your collective effort. It will be starkly apparent how much you were able to help your community -- not because you were solely involved, but rather because your company worked together to effect change.
5. Delegate and celebrate.
The best leaders know how and when to delegate tasks and responsibilities -- even big ones. Find several you're comfortable turning over to trusted employees and let them know they have your support. Encourage them as they complete the work and, when the task is complete, make a point to publicly celebrate them. This hammers home that point that everyone at the company matters -- and everyone is responsible for your business success.