Originally published in Inc.
By Scott Miller
A little bit of ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can fuel ambition, put some extra fire in the belly, and help you advocate for positions or strategies you truly believe in.
Those who unknowingly slide into this territory–or even worse, reside there–become convinced of the superiority of their own ideas and are unwilling to give other people’s input anything more than a perfunctory hearing. They have no awareness of how their personality, communication style, and management choices are poisoning meetings, conference calls, and the overall spirit of the team.
These people are not just a liability to the organizations they work for; they are also a liability to themselves and their own careers. It’s well worth your time, then, to do a little preventive maintenance to ensure that your ego is kept in check.
1. Find the Triggers
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day craziness that you don’t even notice what you’re doing or how you’re doing it most of the time–and therein lies the problem. There are a lot of bad behaviors that people have accumulated over the years that they don’t even realize they’ve picked up.
So hit the pause button for a moment and take the time to stop and reflect. Can you think of situations where you steamrollered over someone else’s idea or suggestion? Is this something that happens frequently? The simple act of recognizing times when you have acted in a less than collaborative fashion is an important first step in developing self-awareness.
Now, go a level deeper and ask yourself why you acted the way you did. Are there certain settings or situations that trigger you to become defensive, or to feel as if your value as a leader is being called into question? What causes your ego to feel bruised, and how do you then compensate for that feeling?
The more introspection and honesty you can bring to this exercise, the better. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and reflect on the fears, wants, and desires that underpin your thinking and actions. Finding those buried triggers is the easiest way to prevent your ego from getting you into trouble.
2. Seek Out Honest Feedback
Seeing yourself through other people’s eyes is critical. How would your team describe the way you typically run a meeting? What would they say is your degree of receptiveness to other people’s ideas and opinions? If they were at a bar having a few beers, what would be their unfiltered, in vino veritas commentary about you?
Better yet, don’t speculate: Ask them. Get feedback about what it’s like for them to report to you or work on a project with you. Make it clear that you’re not fishing for compliments or looking for diplomatically worded vague suggestions. You want direct, unvarnished feedback.
This is your best shot at uncovering unsavory behavior patterns that have gone unchecked or unchallenged. If you aren’t regularly seeking this type of feedback, make a habit of it so that you can nip any troubling behaviors in the bud.
The benefits that come out of these conversations will far outweigh any potential awkwardness or uncomfortableness involved. Embrace humility, and keep your mouth shut and your ears open, and you’ll emerge a better manager, which is good for everybody.
3. Accept That You Don’t Know Everything
You’ve been around the block a few times and chalked up some measurable success in your career. But that doesn’t mean that you’re an unimpeachable font of wisdom with nothing left to learn.
Seek out some of the wisest and most seasoned professionals you know and ask if they’d be willing to share some of their key life lessons. How have they navigated success and failure throughout their careers? Listen carefully to their answers, and learn from their experiences. If someone thinks that they have nothing of importance to learn from others, that is a sure sign that their ego has led them down a very unhelpful road.
Ultimately, ego is a bit like salt. A little dash adds pizzazz, but too much ruins the dish. Following these tips will help you get the balance right, allowing you to develop a strong sense of self-awareness that will keep your ego in check.
Scott Miller is Executive Vice President of Though Leadership at FranklinCovey.