Most workplaces are built on hierarchy systems. Some workers sit at the top while everyone else is somewhere below trying to climb the ladder. Being a top-tier executive comes with its perks and privileges, ones that everyone beneath wishes they could experience— be it the corner office, front parking spot, salary, power, influence, validation, you name it. Whatever it may be, the view from the top sure is nice.

Hierarchy systems breed confidence for those who fare well and climb their way up successfully. The problem, though, is that confidence can become over-confidence and develop into something that can be detrimental to leadership and the entire workplace: ego.

A worker of any kind with an ego can negatively impact professional relationships, team dynamics, and their individual capabilities. An executive in power with a big ego? Now that can really do some damage.

Ego is Universal

Let me be clear: Ego is not reserved only for those who sit at the top of the workplace totem pole. We all have an element of ego in our brains and the need to be right can be experienced by anyone at any level in a company structure. The point being made about hierarchy systems is that their structure innately feeds egos, as the privilege of being “on top” instills feelings of superiority and righteousness. 

And while anyone can be a leader at any level of a workplace, those in concrete “leadership positions” hold an immense amount of influence, but are unfortunately set up to be tempted most by ego due to their spot in the company hierarchy. 

Detriments of Ego

What’s to gain from ego, anyway? According to Forbes, “The irony is that in protecting itself, the ego destroys communication, relationships and even businesses – and for what? The privilege of being seen to be right.”

Our ego is that little guy on our shoulder telling us that we’re right, that we can’t be viewed as weak, that we don’t make mistakes. The reason ego can be so detrimental is because when our ego controls us, we’re only interested in seeking information that confirms our ego. We become narrow-minded and hold ourselves back from the learning and growth that can often be found in moments of failure. 

Lack of personal growth: When feedback is provided in discussion, we all respond differently. Some may feel insecure about their work, and some may respond favorably, thankful for the learning opportunity to become better. Those of us who struggle with ego, on the other hand, are likely to feel defensive. Our ego’s need to be right is threatened in moments of criticism, and unable to accept fault, we may find ourselves placing blame on others or outside factors.

Lack of creativity and innovation: Someone who has confirmed their own knowledge and superiority is less likely to seek out different perspectives and ideas that could spark discussion on a certain topic or project. As an effect, the work done by an egocentric leader is likely to remain stagnant and stay within the box. Creativity and innovation are stifled as the opinions and ideas that agree with the ego are the only ones being heard. 

Lack of human connection: As our ego silences opposing beliefs and experiences, a leader’s job to connect with all workers and cultures is hereby demolished. True leaders recognize the value in learning from other people’s experiences and insights, and use this as a way to build meaningful work relationships. 

Harvard Business Review explains the effect of ego, “we lose perspective and end up in a leadership bubble where we only see and hear what we want to. As a result, we lose touch with the people we lead, the culture we are a part of, and ultimately our clients and stakeholders.”

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Having confidence and having an ego are two different states of being that may sometimes be confused. Confident leaders believe in themselves, but also in diversity of opinions, constructive criticism, and most importantly, their own fallibility. 

Ego-centered leaders, however, are characterized by their close-mindedness and pursuit of being right. The ripple effect of their ego not only limits them personally as a leader, but hurts everyone in their path. 

Leaders seeking to become more impactful and rid themselves of their ego can keep an eye out for next week’s article or consider Knowted’s coaching program for a more detailed approach.

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