big egos in business just. don't. mix.
It would be an understatement to say I have some experience on this topic. I've certainly experienced being on the receiving end of this in some of the positions I've held over the past 15+ years of my professional life.
My dear friend Angela Baldonero is a brilliant businesswoman with a great sense of perspective and professionalism mixed with juuuust the right amount of humbleness & modesty. She wrote a guest post for AVC.com, talking about how her (then) company Return Path created a work culture that most companies would be envious of. I love this post to this very day because there is so much truth, honesty and transparency to it. It particularly rang true to me when I was working for a company a while back and I was in a culture that was just plain brutal. My direct report was someone who would make you run for the hills, with more power than they should have and took everyone down around them. It was painful to wake up each morning, not knowing what we were going to face. Did they take their meds this morning or will today be absolute hell? Unfortunately, I've probably had more bad experiences than good, but I've learned from them. I've learned how to work in an environment that wasn't the greatest, while trying to keep my own team motivated.
But I've also had some great experiences with companies. Experiences I will forever cherish because I saw that it CAN be done right and they've helped elevate my career to the next level. Companies that really knew what culture meant and did something about it, and not just throwing it around because it was the latest buzz word.
One of my favourite points that Angela made in her blog post was this one:
Just Say No to Useless Brilliance
We’ve all worked with that brilliant person that the organization thinks it cannot live without. Unfortunately, that brilliant person can’t communicate or work on a team. So, most organizations put them in a box in an attempt to minimize the damage they inflict on the organization. But it never works because the boxes pile up and so do the silos. And no matter how well constructed the box is, that brilliant person can simultaneously demotivate 20 co-workers AND usually doesn’t contribute much in the silo. It’s not worth it. We don’t tolerate brilliant assholes.
Bingo! Sound familiar? It did for me and it made me realize that there ARE a lot of unnecessary egos in business (which essentially translates to very low self-esteem) and people who are not great leaders nor should they even lead a team. They're given far to much power, they're ruthless and will do anything & step on anyone to climb the corporate ladder.
But my biggest question is: Why are these people leading teams and/or company's and why are company's scared to get rid of them?
It baffles me and aside from what the domino effect could be (the amount of extra work it would create, or the price they would pay to say adios asshole(!)), it does more damage in the long term than they think it does. Not just damage to the company, but more importantly, damage to the morale of the the employees, their work, motivation and self-esteem.
For those dear friends of mine who know me well, they have often heard me vent about my experiences as they have also done so, speaking of their own. We all have our workplace nightmares to share, some more than others, and quite frankly, they're becoming all to frequent. They also know that the one person who is my biggest role model in business is my father. Now, he would likely brush this blog post off and wonder why I'm talking about him (his modesty at its best!) but its really quite simple: he taught to me always treat others as you would want to be treated in life and in business. He also said attitudes, egos & hierarchy are unnecessary in business no matter what level you're at, no matter how much power you have and no matter how much you make. Period. My father was the type of business man who was very successful at a young age. He climbed the proverbial corporate ladder, providing for his family, doing his work well, respecting others and received the same amount of respect back from his peers. He went from the Manager of Rates with the Ontario Government, involved in some of our countries biggest court cases, to the head of finance for Newfoundland Hydro to the President at a hugely successful law firm, which he helped triple in size. All while staying humble, motivated and focused on his work.
Through all of this, he always had integrity, was always fair, mentored people who he saw were motivated and never took more vacation time than he was given "just because he was the president". These are the kind of leaders companies need. And its these type of people I have more respect for than those who feel the need to stand on their soap box and bully people around. When he retired almost 5 years ago, he left behind a legacy I will always be proud of.
Serious egos are a liability and eventually, as Angela said, the silos build up and that one person can simultaneously demotivate an entire department, heck even an entire company, fracturing the foundation and possibly, causing it to collapse. The best leaders know how to check their ego at the door. If you always have to be Numero Uno, your company and employees are left playing second fiddle. And that can limit everyone's growth.
There was a great article in Fast Company called "Don't Let Your Ego Hijack Your Leadership Effectiveness". It made a great point by saying, "The ego is one of the biggest barriers to people working together effectively. When people get caught up in their egos, it erodes their effectiveness. That's because the combination of false pride and self-doubt created by an overactive ego gives people a distorted image of their own importance. When that happens, people see themselves as the centre of the universe and they begin to put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those affected by their thoughts and actions."
They also list four traits of the best leaders:
- They don't show off
- They aren't dictators
- They encourage input
- Their willing to show vulnerability
I think that just about sums it up.