All leaders need to have healthy egos. They need to have a modicum of pride, a helping of confidence, and a degree of self-assurance. That said, pragmatic leaders are careful not to let their egos get in the way of achieving their goals and executing their agendas. When leaders are more concerned with satisfying the needs of their ego rather than the mechanics of what needs to be done, they are definitely caught up in one or more of the ego traps. Leaders who are enthralled by the ego trap are more concerned with their projection of self than with their goals. They are consumed with how they appear to others and what others think of them. They are so self-absorbed that they fail to think of the larger context. There are five ego traps that can not only trip up a leader, but can also slow down or stop their change agenda entirely:
1. Delusion: Ego Kills Objectivity
When leaders stop trying to discover the objective situation, they are primed to stumble into the delusion trap. If they never stop to consider their perspective from the point of view of others, and neglect to notice the needs and wants of others, they are delusional about the reality of the situation. Pragmatic leaders value objectivity, and work to understand the situation, the context, and the position of others. With a superficial understanding of how things are, there is the potential for poor decision making.
2. Bravado: Ego Confuses the Tactics
When leaders have more bravado than self-assured confidence, they may have a tendency to bluff, make false threats and promises, and exaggerate the importance of their personal needs and wants. Leaders who rely on bravado rarely form lasting alliances. They may be able to summon some short-term support, but when the mask falls off, one-time supporters won't have the interest in maintaining the relationship. There is a difference between being assertive and firm and being blustery. Pragmatic leaders avoid drama, but remain resolute.
3. Winning for the Sake of Winning: Ego Muddles the Ends
Winning isn't a zero-sum game. Leaders who are obsessed with winning all the time, rather than creating "win-win" scenarios, may experience short-term success while ultimately losing the game. Pragmatic leaders know that giving in a little bit, or even taking measured losses, can be a good tactic when getting support of others.
4. Resentment: Ego Induces a Conflict Spiral
Leaders who operate with their ego on the front burner can rub people the wrong way. When others resent the leader, they can not only stop the leader's agenda but also they can open the door to a conflict spiral. If the leader is determined to "show them," then the other parties involved may dig in their feet. The relationship can devolve into a senseless spiral of ego gains. If a leader feels insulted, he or she may engage in the tit-for-tat of the conflict spiral. Pragmatic leaders ask what they can do to control the situation and try to find common ground so everyone can move ahead together.
5. Narcissism: Ego Creates Vulnerability
Ego-driven leaders are vulnerable to false flattery and insincere ingratiation. Others are quick to recognize their ego needs, and are willing to feed their weakness. Narcissists are at risk for manipulation. Pragmatic leaders are self-aware, and cautiously guard against attempts appeal to their ego--just in case.
Pragmatic leaders are fundamentally concerned with one thing: execution and getting things done. This demands that they bracket their ego. If leaders are more interested in short-term ego gratification, they will undermine their capacity to objectively evaluate the empirical reality which surrounds them and lead from the delusional perspective of the ego traps.