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Is there such a thing as an egoless leader?

Blair Mcpherson

A recent  article in the HR Director trotted out that old adage that ego is the enemy of good leadership. I can only assume that any one who claims this has been scarred by close contact with a boss with an over inflated ego. Some one who was difficult to work with because they were always right, they could never admit to a mistake, there was only one way of doing things their way and any dissent was considered personal disloyalty. Someone who was not a successful or effective leader despite their high opinion of themselves.

The thing is there are some very successful and effective leaders who have had big egos. I am thinking of Napoleon and Henry v111. More recently there was Mohammad Ali who had an ego the size of a small planet but at the time really was, “the greatest“ and saying so put bums on seats making  him also rich and famous. Brian Clough was a very  successful and high profile football manager affectionately referred to by many in the sport as ,”old big head”.

On the subject of football the most successful ever British manager Alex Ferguson was not only highly opinionated he  was extremely sensitive to criticism and known to ban journalist from his weekly media briefings who questioned his methods or decisions. In fact he had journalist thrown out for asking, “impertinent “ questions. More recently still when he felt his management skills were being questioned Jose Mourinho took to reminding journalists and the army of armchair critics of the number of trophies we had won with different clubs across Europe.

It’s not only sport where very effective and successful leaders have also had big egos. Margaret Thatcher was not known for her willingness to listen, to appreciate the other sides  point of view or to change her mind once made up. She is famously quoted for stating, “ U can turn if you want to but this lady is not for turning .”

I am not convinced there is a recipe or set of characterises that make for an effective and successful leader. Having an inflated ego does not in my experience disqualify you from being a good leader. However it’s is difficult to image an effective leader who does not have a strong sense of self belief, after all you can’t expect others to have confidence in you if you don’t have it in your self. Whilst arrogance is an unattractive quality no one is fooled by false modesty. However a successful track record should speak for itself you shouldn’t  need to keep reminding people.

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