5 Ways Our Ego is Our Trap

Jul 30, 2021

I have written before about my time working as a Vice President (VP) for Lowe’s home improvement. When I started in that position, I worked as part of what I believed was a highly effective team of five VPs.

Our group of five reported to the same Chief Information Officer, Steve Stone, and we worked together fairly well, maintaining a culture of professional competition. At times there was tension between us, but we believed this was a healthy tension that drove our performance and led to many successes.

One day, the Chief Information Officer met my team with reprimands, telling us that we had a huge issue holding us back individually and collectively. He informed us that this problem boiled down to three little letters: E-G-O.

Not only were we letting this “healthy competition” allow us to work against one another, but we were also impeding potential progress and successes for the company and our customers. We just did not have the outside perspective to see the bigger picture.

In the end, the Human Resources Department brought in an outside party to evaluate us, which ultimately led to a restructuring of the team and increased the number of direct reports from five to 12. We did not know that we would be limiting our own opportunities for advancement through this culture of ego and competition. Our ego was our trap.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

-Harry Truman

This article is taken from the Passion Struck Podcast episode I did on why your ego is holding you back.

How a Big Ego Can Hold You Back

The is such a fine line between confidence and ego. You can have faith in your abilities and be a forceful leader without an ego. However, it only takes a small step to allow that big ego to take over. I remember those days back at Lowe’s and how many times my point of view was challenged. On my good days, I would be reflective and try to understand where the other person (or persons) was coming from. On my bad days, I would immediately dismiss it and shift to “proving” I was right. 

A dark haired woman with an ego problem

People with an ego problem tend to be hyper-focused on outcomes only while ignoring the process. When you shift your focus onto efforts instead of results, you foster a more healthy and realistic method of setting goals. You cannot control every outcome. 

There is always going to be some level of outside factors beyond your control: the influence of others, changes in the culture or environment, and some level of luck. You can, however, control your level of effort. By setting goals that focus on your performance and output instead of the final results, you can take charge of reaching your goals. 

Additionally, when the focus is placed on the process, more opportunities for growth and development tend to appear. Talking with others, asking for feedback, and giving up some level of control are complex functions when your ego is in overdrive, and you only care about getting credit for the finished job. But embracing the process and taking the time to engage in these tasks can lend to a better-finished project in the end.

“We cross the lines into ego when we can’t (or won’t try to) understand perceptions. Understanding a perception is different than agreeing. I may disagree, but if I can understand where you are coming from, we can at least have a dialog. When our knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss without seeking to learn, it is ego getting in the way.”

– Steve Stone.

Being outcome-driven is not necessarily a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with working to achieve an end goal. That is, in fact, the way most modern-day professionals operate on a daily basis. The difference comes from shifting your focus and definition of success. When you define success as making a genuine effort to do your best, it becomes a lot easier to feel successful, which in turn grows self-confidence and leads to a healthy cycle of setting reasonable goals and trusting yourself to accomplish them.

Conversely, when you define success as receiving praise or credit for finishing a task, you engage in an unhealthy cycle of setting “do whatever it takes no matter the cost” goals and seeking outside validation to stroke your big ego.

To watch the podcast video, click on the picture below.

Passion Struck podcast with John R. Miles on the topic of how does the ego hold us back

Common Signs of an Ego Problem

You Never Ask Questions

Perhaps you are the top person in charge. You believe you know the answer to everything because you are the person who makes the decisions. You invented the software, created the platform, recreated the entire process, and single-handedly performed the company-wide system change. Whatever the situation is, you need to admit that you do not know everything. Someone else may have an idea or feedback which could be of use to you. Or your team is not taking full advantage of the system because they are missing information and are not even aware of the shortcoming.

There are many reasons to ask questions. Asking questions, engaging in two-way communication, and showing that you are willing to learn from others are signs of a strong leader and open the doors for powerful and effective conversations. When we fail to ask questions because we feel we know it all it is because our ego is our trap.

You Ignore (or Never Receive) Critiques

Getting honest and productive feedback is an excellent tool for making improvements. Think about how you react to negative or constructive feedback. If you become angry, offended, or avoidant, it is unlikely that person will want to provide honest feedback in the future. It is impossible for a group of people to agree on everything all the time. If you never receive any constructive critiques, your team is either not actively participating, or they are withholding honest feedback. Open the discussion for productive and straightforward communication and analysis. Consider the opinions of others. Not every critique needs to be addressed but embracing honest feedback without emotional response shows courage and character in a leader.

You Never Accept Help

If you have an overactive ego, you probably never ask for help, and even when someone offers, you are unlikely to accept. This may be due largely to an obsessive need to fully control whatever you are working on. Working alone gives you full power to make decisions without considering the opinions or using someone else’s ideas. Or it could be because you want to receive all the credit for the project, even if it means doing the work of more than one person. Conversely, you might be afraid that asking for help means you are admitting you could not achieve the end result on your own, and you fear for your reputation.  

You Always Need to Win

You have an insatiable need to always be right. You cannot walk away from an argument until you believe you have won or until the other person becomes worn down and lets, you have your way. If you “lose” in a disagreement, you feel embarrassed, vengeful, or personally attacked. There is great power in knowing when to pick your battles, when to admit the alternative idea is better than your original, or simply learning when to calmly walk away from a situation. It’s called the art of diplomacy. And, a person with a big ego rarely if ever uses it.

You Disregard People or Tasks Beneath Your Pay Grade

As you reach a greater level of success and work your way up the corporate ladder, it is easy to lose touch with the people and practices you used to be part of. If you feel that you do not need to communicate with junior-level employees or customers because of your status, your ego is holding you back. It is incredible how a small business can be brought to its knees by the resignation of an administrator or miss out on a sales associate with management potential because the right people never talked to him. Beyond these examples, there is also the simple reason of just being a kind person. Good people do not want to associate with a jerk. And that is exactly what a person with an ego problem can become.

Why Our Ego is Our Trap

It is all too easy to fall into an ego trap and let it hold you back from reaching your true potential. Perhaps the most challenging step in overcoming an ego problem is admitting that it is negatively impacting you. It is easy to tell yourself you just have a competitive spirit and a high level of self-confidence. But if you have a difficult time getting help or feedback, considering the ideas of others, or setting realistic goals for yourself, you may be struggling with an ego problem. 

Take a step back, remind yourself not to take things personally, and start working to shift your focus and expectations. You might be surprised to see new opportunities emerge when you make an effort to step outside of your competitive nature and start applying cooperative principles to your work.

The Passion Struck podcast is helping men and women unlock their true potential and become passion struck every day. Listen to the Passion Struck Podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts online. For more information, if you are in a toxic relationship, click here.

Make a choice, work hard, and step into your sharp edges.

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