Most good managers have a healthy dose of ego—that source of internal confidence that allows a leader to stand strong behind decisions and maintain a vision for the group in spite of challenges along the way. Unfortunately, that ego can sometimes kick into overdrive, causing those same managers to make missteps among direct reports and other team members.
If only we could identify what the most common ego pitfalls are, maybe we could help the very leaders we are tasked with supporting to sidestep them.
In my work over the past 20 years as a learning and development specialist and now as a coach to top-tier executives, I have discovered a predictable pattern of ego traps that those in leadership positions are apt to fall into. Here is just a sampling of issues that surface:
- ignoring feedback
- not letting go of control
- underestimating how much one is being watched
- believing one’s technical skills trump one’s leadership skills.
You can probably envision what I’m talking about. In fact, you’ve likely seen it before: The well-meaning department head who is known for undermining her people because she just can’t stay out of the low-level details of the daily tasks of her team, the technically proficient supervisor who lacks the softer people skills, or the sociable manager who is clueless to the fact that he’s setting a bad example by taking personal calls throughout the workday while telling his employees they are on the phone too often.
Most of these folks are talented, even well-meaning, but because they have stepped into a leadership role, which offers certain power and privileges, they may end up suffering from one or more ego blind spots. The antidote to any of these blind spots is often a humble dose of EQ, which at its core is made up of self-awareness, empathy, and self-control.
We’ve known about emotional intelligence (EQ) for years now, thanks to the valuable work of Daniel Goleman. The ongoing question: How do you get your folks to apply EQ quickly and simply in the workplace?
I suggest that managers and leaders use what I call the “three R’s” as an actionable way to ensure that they are operating from a place of EQ rather than ego:
- recognize what’s going on for oneself (one’s moods, feelings, thoughts, and reactions)
- read what’s going on for others (their moods, feelings, thoughts, situation, and reactions)
- respond in a way that is most appropriate, based on the environment and the people in it.
Applying the 3 Rs
Here’s a snapshot of how the three R’s can be used to combat the ego trap of not letting go of control.
Jane Doe department head is told by the HR director that a number of employee complaints have been received about Jane’s unwillingness to delegate tasks. In hearing this, Jane may initially disagree with the feedback, but by partnering with an internal coach who explains this is something that can be fairly easily fixed, Jane agrees to make an honest effort to change. But how? With the three R’s, she can be better prepared to avoid this ego trap the next time it appears.
First, Jane learns to recognize the triggers that cause her to micromanage things. With some mindful attention, she starts to tune into her strong desire to ensure that every detail turns out right in every situation and is able to better determine when to jump in and when not to act on that urge (self-awareness).
Next, she turns an eye outward and tries to read how her team members might be feeling in a given situation (empathy). She thinks about the work they have been hired to do, realizes that no one likes working for a micro-manager, and better tunes into the help they do and don’t need from her in order to contribute to the team.
Lastly, Jane responds in a way that acknowledges her own impulses to get involved while also respecting her team members’ need for autonomy (self-control). She authorizes them to do the work they were hired to do while she stays informed without staying involved.
Score one for Jane, her coach, and EQ. Jane’s use of the three R’s has stopped her ego from undermining her ability to delegate and instead helped her build credibility and trust with her team. Regardless of the ego trap, the three R’s are a handy way to ensure that EQ, not ego, reigns supreme.