Ego is not in itself a bad thing.
All achievers have a healthy ego. Bo Ryan, Head Coach of the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program explains that, “The selfless player with ego is a great team mate.”
But not every player with an ego is selfless, and it is those teammates or coworkers (the ones who have a destructive ego) that make succeeding in an organization difficult. A teammate with a “bad” ego has a negative influence on team chemistry, but also limits his or her productivity and improvement – because bad ego “Eliminates Growth Opportunities.”
A “bad ego” is dangerous. The ancient Greeks used the word “hubris,” and that blinding self-pride was often the tragic flaw that led to a powerful character’s downfall.
So what is the difference between “Bad” ego, that destroys team productivity and cohesiveness, and “Good” ego, that contributes to group success?
The difference can be simplified as destructive arrogance vs. constructive confidence.
Read the following eight descriptions, and see if you recognize yourself or a teammate:
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) – needs to be in the spotlight and takes credit for team success.
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) – is comfortable being part of something bigger than himself.
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) is often difficult to approach and belittles others
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) is open and warm while sharing encouragement
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) spends most of his / her time talking (and bragging)
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) spends most of his/her time listening (and learning)
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) becomes defensive when a conflicting idea is shared
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) is interested in understanding other perspectives
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) is threatened by others’ success and focused on self
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) celebrates others’ success and wants team victory
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) refuses to acknowledge weaknesses and makes excuses
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) admits weaknesses and takes responsibility
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) assumes he/she knows more than his/her teammates
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) is willing to ask for advice and leverage others’ strengths
- Destructive arrogance (bad ego) usually uses the word “I” in conversations
- Constructive Confidence (good ego) usually uses the word “we” in conversations
As you read through the descriptions, did someone in your organization pop into your mind?
Did you see yourself in any of the italicized “bad ego” examples and descriptions?
If so, the good news is that anyone can modify their perspective and behavior to be a more positive and valuable member of a team. A team ego problem can be solved.
So, if someone in your organization has an ego problem, how do you solve it?
As G.I. Joe used to say, “Knowing is half the battle!”
The most important thing you can do is to make them aware of the issue.
In many cases, just the suggestion to a person that they are damaging the team dynamic can be a powerful catalyst for them to begin making a few personal changes in their behavior.
A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” ~Benjamin Franklin Tweet This!
Destructive egos eliminate growth opportunities when they refuse to acknowledge their own need for improvement or refuse to see themselves as one piece of a much larger and more important puzzle.
Bad ego causes people to focus on themselves and their own personal accomplishments. It leads to a self-importance that seeks to focus attention on them instead of seeking ways to use their talents and contribute to others.
So what are a few other ways to solve the ego problem on your team?
Well, once you have become aware of the problem (or helped a teammate to acknowledge the problem), you can try the following ideas:
- Have the person list the ways that others have contributed to their success – it wasn’t by themselves that they succeeded in the past, and it will not be by themselves and their own efforts that they will enjoy success in the future!
- Choose one of the destructive ego descriptors and then assist the person in changing REPLACING the destructive behaviors with more productive and positive ones.
- Identify a behavior from the constructive ego descriptors that the person may already do well and suggest ways to leverage it and begin building better relationships with the team.
- Have the person make it a point to inquire about other teammates more often – and have them ask for advice about things that they are working on.
- Place the person in situations where he/she MUST depend upon others to be successful. Learning interdependence can be difficult, but it becomes easier once the person finds that he/she can trust and depend on others.
- Provide opportunities for team building activities and bonding – the more the person learns about their teammates’ strengths, backgrounds, team personality types, and challenges, the more he/she will feel a part of care for the group.
Many years ago, Benjamin Franklin wrote that “a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.” Our job as teammates is to work together – and remember that confident collaboration creates a far better culture (and far more success to celebrate) than arrogant competition.
When Rick Pitino was coaching the Boston Celtics, he asked Bill Russell to speak to his team before a game. Russell agreed, and began his brief speech by telling the group that HE was the most egotistical S.O.B. in the room. “But my ego was always a team ego. My ego was linked with the success of my team… and the greatest disappointment I had as a player was the year i was hurt and we didn’t win a twelfth title.”
Everything we do as leaders should be geared toward building a stronger team ego.
If you are looking for a special addition to your list of meeting topics or breakout sessions as part of your next conference, consider the benefits of a team development event as a catalyst to improve your group morale, energy, and interactions!
Have you thought of anything that you would like to add to the list? Please comment below.