Egos: you just can’t avoid them!
If you have managed to avoid wildly bloated egos in the workplace you are a Unicorn. Working with special operations units to life in the private sector AND even my own… working with egotistical maniacal leadership is like managing a mine field. The difference is your insight into both your own ego and those you are confronted with.
No matter where you work or who you work with, you will always find that egos come into play when making decisions, assigning tasks, or dividing up responsibilities.
There will always be the one man or woman who allows their ego to get the better of common sense and team spirit, and they will turn everything into a competition or blow their contributions to the team way out of proportion… Only if I had a nickel for each time I watched this happen!
As a team leader, you’ve got to be prepared to deal with those egos. Not just to accept that they’re there, but figure out how best to manage them so you and your team can get the job done.
Here are some tips that will help you manage even the largest of egos at work as effectively as possible:
Set Grand Goals
People with big egos like to believe they can achieve great things….so give them a chance to prove it! In business you will often hear it referred to as the Beehag or BHAG which is your Big Hair Audacious Goal.
Setting big goals is an amazing way to motivate talented people (big talent often equals big ego) into pushing themselves harder and doing more. For them, it’s a matter of ego to prove that they can do more than they or anyone else believed possible. The bigger and more difficult the problem, the more they will be motivated to try and prove they can do it.
There is a balance to this, of course. When you set big goals, an ego-driven person might push too hard or go too far, which could lead to serious burn-out—or, worse, failure to complete the project. It’s your job to manage their expectations and make sure they’re not taking risks, cutting corners, or pushing too hard just for the sake of meeting their egos.
Give them a big goal, all the tools they need to get there, and be their system of checks and balances to keep them from spinning out of control.
Validate Their Ego
And by this, I don’t mean spend your time heaping compliments on them. You definitely don’t want to aggrandize their egos by making it seem like you think as highly of them as they think of themselves.
But it never hurts to compliment people and let them know that you recognize their talent! Let’s face it… this really costs you nothing and can be wildly beneficial. In fact, it has been my experience this actually makes you a more powerful leader.
Many ego-driven people are actually quite insecure on the inside, and they’re desperate to have their worth validated by someone like you. When you compliment them, it proves that they are valued, and it may go a long way toward reducing their need to be the best for the sake of their ego.
Make sure to offer genuine, sincere compliments when they do something well. Or if they take credit for something you initiated or drove forward, there are times that it is worth it to just let them have it… they will know, and they know you will know.
Keep Team Goals First
This is going to be a difficult one, but it’s crucial that you do so in order to keep the team balanced and on track.
Most ego-driven people tend to be very focused on their personal goals, or on the tasks they are supposed to accomplish in order to move the project forward. They will typically focus on that to the exclusion of all else, meaning it can be hard to get them to think of anything outside of their purview or tasks.
As the team leader, it’s important that you keep them aware of not just their progress, but the progress of the team as a whole. You need to keep reminding them that they aren’t working on their own, but now they’re part of a team. Their individual success will be dependent on the success of the team, so the more they help the team succeed, the most successful they will be.
This plays to their egocentric viewpoint, and harnesses their “me first” mindset to help everyone in the team rise. It’s definitely not an easy tightrope for you to walk, but if you can find a way to channel their ego into helping the team improve, you’ll find you can make serious progress with them as a driving force.
Be the Leader
Ego-driven people tend to feel comfortable taking over, as they believe they have the talent and skill to be a leader even if they’re not THE leader.
But remember, you ARE the leader. You need to make sure they know that their place is as a member of YOUR team, not THEIR team.
There will almost certainly come a time when they need to be reminded of their place, when you’ll need to rein them in when they want to take control of the project. You don’t want to bruise their ego or make them feel less important, but you need to make sure they understand that you are in charge and they answer to you. If you don’t, you may find that they steer the project wildly off-track because they will end up going where they believe is best, even if they don’t have the big picture of it all.
For an ego-driven person, recognition of their accomplishments is often the greatest motivator. If you want to harness their ego, offer some sort of reward or acknowledgement for their work.
An incentive-driven goal can get these people working at top speed, all so they can earn the incentive or get the reward that you promised. It will work even better when you have two or more highly talented people competing for the prize—their desire to outdo the other will push them harder than ever.
There will always be team members who are the “slow and steady” types, and others who are the “get things done fast” types. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and reward the ones who achieve more. As long as the “slow and steady” types feel valued and useful, they won’t mind the “hotheads” getting their day in the sun because they worked hard.
In the end, everyone on the team improves and the project gets done! That is, after all, what matters most.
It would be a wonderful world if we could all have evolved to the point where regardless of the environment, we are able to set aside our egos to ensure our work product and work environment are priority.
This is also true of our personal relationships. Until the time human kind has evolved intellectually… the least we can do is have self-awareness and become better individuals and leaders.