* 53% of business leaders estimate Ego costs companies 6-15% of annual revenue; 21% say this cost ranges from 16 – 20%.

According to the dictionary, ‘ego’ is defined as “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance” and all of us have an ego as part of our humanness, but what happens when that “sense of self-importance” over-inflates?

Recently, I’ve been binge-watching my secret (not so secret now) favourite reality show, Survivor (the US & Aussie versions), a show that places a group of strangers on an isolated island where they must provide food, shelter, and fire for themselves in two teams. In teams, they battle against each other through varying physical and mental challenges and progressively vote each other off the island until only one Survivor remains.

What fascinates me are the team dynamics and the emergence of Leaders within each team and how quickly healthy ego becomes a big one, sadly, to the detriment of the team and ultimately to themselves (in the form of being voted out). Here’s what I’ve observed.

Leaders with big egos:

  • stop listening
  • believe their own hype
  • continuously push their own agenda and ideas
  • seek constant recognition for their leadership efforts
  • believe they are the most important person in the team
  • hide their mistakes and never openly discuss them
  • believe their ideas are the best
  • create silos
  • Are afraid to develop and empower their teams

Although this is just a reality show, this can be equally observed throughout organisations in the ‘real’ world. Jim Collins wrote about it in his 2001 book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t.

“In over two-thirds of comparison cases (average/good companies), we noted the presence of a gargantuan personal ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.”

Jim Collins

Additionally, we can look at the research conducted by Dr. Paul Nutt of Ohio State University with hundreds of organizations, on why business decisions go awry. He discovered three key reasons why 50 percent of decisions fail:

  • More than one-third of all failed business decisions are driven by ego.
  • Nearly two-thirds of executives never explore alternatives once they make up their minds.
  • Eighty-one percent of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the relevance of their ideas.

So how can leaders keep their ‘egos’ in check? I’ve narrowed it down to these 4 things:

Practice self-compassion

Highly self-compassionate people are also highly self-aware and are able to acknowledge their imperfections as well as establish heartfelt connections without the need to exert control over others. When we practice compassion we are also empathetic, kind, and inclusive.

“The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern. The ego implies unawareness. Awareness and ego cannot coexist.”

Eckart Tolle

Have humility

Humility is the antidote to an inflated ego. It can be defined as having a “low view of one’s importance” and I believe is an essential leadership quality. Humble leaders:

  • Are able to acknowledge their limitations and are unafraid to say they don’t have all the answers.
  • Understand they are in service to their employees and not the other way around.
  • Are congruent in their words, actions, and deeds.
  • Look to promote and develop others.
  • Model integrity and trust.
  • Are first to admit mistakes and last to take credit.

Build self-worth, not self-confidence

Some of the most confident leaders have low self-worth and believe in the “fake it ’till you make it” school of thought. This is great if you want to work on your confidence but it does little for your self-worth. So what’s the difference?

Self-confidence is about what you do such as how you perform and the results you achieve, and self-worth is about who you are, how much you value, love, and respect yourself as a person, regardless of your skills, performance, and achievements.

Leaders with high self-worth:

  • Are effective communicators
  • Believe in themselves
  • Are resilient
  • Are forgiving and compassionate (of themselves and others)
  • Believe they are worthy of happiness and respect
  • Set realistic expectations for themselves and others and accept the possibility of failure
  • Are self-aware (acknowledge their strengths and accept the areas of development)

* Based on the research conducted by Wolf Management Consultants, LLC