When big egos clash in the workplace, or we feel we need to silence ourselves to avoid confrontation with someone who has exaggerated self-confidence, it will inevitably negatively impact a company’s workplace culture, and create stress and impact creativity and productivity. Egos represent our sense of self-importance, worth and self-esteem created through our lives and moulded on the impact of our experiences, but good leaders don’t require gratitude, self-promotion, or ego-stroking. Instead, whilst the best leaders have a clear vision, they opt to build on and use the capability of their team, welcome input from all stakeholders, and look for new opportunities to grow or do better.
After 30 years of facilitating transformative business culture change – as well as 17 years’ experience in the Royal Marines where leadership is of course paramount – I advocate for egoless management. Here’s why.
- Egoless leaders know when their contribution is needed and when it is best to let others flourish. Whilst still being the head of the business, self-promotion isn’t important to egoless leaders who instead prefer to celebrate the success of others or the team. People with big egos often struggle to celebrate other’s success because they don’t like the spotlight being taken away from them.
- They discourage driving competition between employees which is sometimes used as a motivation tactic, because they see both success and failure as a team effort. They know that we learn best from experience and from each other.
- They truly value the physical health and mental health of their employees (and show them they do). They don’t wait for problems to occur but proactively try to prevent them through better care of their employees. In the Marines officers always check the welfare of their people and ensure they have eaten before they do so themselves.
- They empower the team. Whilst having a clear vision, these leaders focus on building their organisation by enhancing and utilising the positive attributes of each employee and constructively offering training when required. They are personable and show a genuine interest in their employees and want to know what motivates them, how they work best and provide individual and team opportunities for employees to grow and harness their full potential.
- They are passionate and unlikely to be solely motivated by power, money or fame. They are excited when they talk about new projects or campaigns, they put in the same hours as everyone else and enjoy learning and improving even when they are at the top of their game. Obstacles are rarely seen as a hindrance and are instead seen as a challenge that can and will be overcome.
- They are humble and are happy to pitch in with menial jobs or when the going gets tough as we have seen countless times during the pandemic. The CEO of a major hospital in the UK often visits patients in the ICU and can be seen helping make beds, cleaning floors and talking with families.
- They ask for and act on feedback. These leaders will routinely ask for feedback from clients, stakeholders and employees in order to improve the organisation. Negatives are not seen as a personal attack but are instead appreciated and seen as an opportunity to learn so that the company can harness its full potential.
- They trust their intuition. When faced with a tough decision, egoless leaders carefully consider all angles, take advice, weigh up the pros and cons and then trust their intuition about what the right thing to do is. They rarely make rash decisions.
- They take responsibility for their mistakes and take accountability for their actions and are not afraid to apologise if things go wrong and don’t blame others for their mistakes. Rather they endeavour to learn from them.
- They are aware of how their actions and words affect others and pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues and listen well. In contentious situations egoless leaders are emotionally intelligent and understand how to deliver sensitive information. They create the right environment before they speak, choose their words carefully, react to body language and understand that everyone communicates differently.