Popping the leadership ego bubble

leadership ego bubble

Jane recently completed a personality type assessment at her workplace. The assessment was being run by an independent organisation. Before even starting, her manager commented snidely, “You’ll be a Labrador for sure”.

Jane wasn’t very happy with this comment. It was clear that her manager associated her personality type as being a “people-pleaser”. Given the negative tone of the remark, her manager clearly had a negative perception of the stabilising Labrador, one of the available personality types.

This negative view persisted even after the organisation had made significant effort to convey that all personality types were valuable and required in the workplace. No type was said to be any more important than any other.

When Jane received her results, she found she was in fact a “Monkey”. Her manager queried the person who delivered the test, “I’m not sure those results are accurate. I don’t think certain people are being honest answering the questions.”

Why is this so? Rather than accepting that he may have read her employee wrongly, instead he blamed Jane for being dishonest when completing the assessment.

Why some leaders always need to be right

Some leaders feel the need to be right, all the time. In Jane’s case, her manager believed that she lied on the personality assessment. Her manager didn’t believe that he could have been wrong about Jane. Therefore, the only alternative was that Jane had lied on her assessment.

Leaders like this walk through their careers in an ego bubble. When I meet such a leader, I feel that if they were somehow forced to accept the reality that they may be wrong, their bubble would burst and they would quickly deflate and lose all the confidence that keeps them going.

The only thing that keeps these leaders going each day is the false confidence they gain from their own feelings of superiority.

Adaptive Leadership Guide

How do people come to be in a leadership ego bubble?

In my experience, the leaders that become this way have a perception of leadership that is antiquated. They hold an outdated view of leadership. They believe they must be seen to be the dominant “top dog” in all of their dealings.

When their team does a good job, these leaders will often receive and claim the credit. When such leaders take up a new role, they make changes quickly without first observing the situation. They think this makes them seem decisive. Such leaders will disregard other opinions because needing to be “helped” by somebody else is a sign of weakness.

Leaders like Jane’s have developed these traits because they lack confidence in their own abilities and they tend to feel insecure. This causes them to fight these feelings by over-compensating with powerful, strong signals. Signals like making quick decisions, dominating others and taking charge of situations, even when this isn’t necessary.

How can you avoid the leadership ego trap?

We all have insecurities about leadership, especially when starting out as a new leader or even commencing a new role. However, it’s important to stop these insecurities in their tracks, before they manifest themselves in behaviour that you’re not proud of.

You don’t need to have all the answers

A good starting point is to realise that you don’t need to have all the answers. A leader who believes they should be the font of all knowledge and handle everything themselves is likely to feel incredibly insecure.

If you were required to have all the answers, then you wouldn’t need a team to assist you. Would you rather make an ill-informed decision so that you can appear decisive? Or would you rather have made the correct decision, with the aid of your team or your peers?

Leaders that acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers are those that build strong rapport with their team, because they are inclusive and collaborative. Their employees feel valued and feel like their opinions matter, which is a key aspect of engaging them in their work.

Your fears start from inside your own head

The next step is to understand that your fear of being perceived as a weak leader is coming from your own head. Leaders who walk in their leadership ego bubble are consumed with making themselves look powerful. They think that’s what others want to see. They think that any sign of “weakness” will be observed by others and the news will spread like wildfire, ruining their reputation.

This is far from the truth. Gone are the days when dominant, powerful leaders are the only leaders that can get work done. In many cases, a collaborative approach is far more beneficial, because it fosters communication and helps your employees build confidence in their abilities.

The next time you experience a thought starting with “I should be…” or “I need to…”, stop yourself by asking “Who says?”

It may become apparent that nobody is telling you to do anything, except yourself. When you start to take action based only on what you perceive that others are thinking, you may be heading down the wrong path. Consider whether you have any evidence for your thoughts, or whether you’re simply being critical of yourself.

Letting others lead isn’t a sign of weakness

You lead a team for a reason. Your team is there to help you accomplish things. Sure, you could order them around and be the “boss”. Or you could give your team members the opportunity to lead and focus on other tasks while your team leads part of the work.

Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are ineffective. It means that you understand that a task would be better performed with assistance. It means that you can get more done, to a higher standard, if others pitch in and contribute.

Knowing your limits is a key leadership quality. Leaders who live in the leadership ego bubble struggle to understand their limits – they believe they don’t have any. Maintaining the façade of always being on top of an intense workload is stressful. Especially when you don’t feel like you can ask for help.

Leaders living in the leadership ego bubble is something I see all too often. I don’t believe that these leaders were always this way. This way of leading is learned and is reinforced by feelings of inadequacy, low self confidence and a feeling that we must always be dominant, top of the pack.

Changing your leadership mindset allows you to shift your thinking. It changes from trying to be the person who can’t be wrong, to somebody who acknowledges their shortcomings. Someone who asks for help and delegates responsibility to empower others.

Pop that leadership ego bubble today.

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