June 2017 Motivate On The Cover

A Leader’s Greatest Friend: The Chief Ego Deflator


Written By: Bill Treasurer, Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting

Few things are as damaging to a leader as an oversized ego. Left unchecked, a big ego can lead to arrogance and the leader starts to assume that his or her judgment, creativity and intelligence trump everyone else’s. The big-ego leaders can quickly become dismissive, irritable or, worse, tyrannical. When a leader’s ego is pleased only by getting its way, and when followers’ actions are geared toward avoiding the leader’s displeasure, a leader’s success is doomed.

To be clear, people want to follow a leader who is confident, strong and resolved. A healthy ego is, in fact, necessary for leading effectively. But, there’s a difference between a healthy ego and an oversized one. The difference hinges on humility. A healthy ego recognizes that it exists in relation to the egos of others, and it isn’t threatened when those egos are healthy, too. A healthy ego recognizes its own imperfections and limitations, and it doesn’t hold others to a standard of perfection, either. A healthy ego is humble enough to know that it isn’t the center of the world.

The challenge is that a healthy ego can slip into an unhealthy one. Usually, this happens after a leader has had a series of successes and becomes overly confident and assured. He or she may start to place bigger bets, assert bolder opinions and walk with more swagger. Past successes can become “proof” that the leader is just a little bit better and more important than everyone else. Before long, the leader has become untethered from the grounding effects of humility.

To remain grounded, every leader needs to have a Chief Ego Deflator. Leaders need at least one person who can hold up a mirror to them so they can see when their heads are getting too big. Often, this role is best served by someone who knew a leader before he or she had power such as a spouse, childhood friend or college classmate. What matters most is that the role be filled by someone who can call BS on a leader without having to worry that the leader will punish that person. In other words, that person needs to be someone who can “get through” to the leader and puncture the leader’s ego enough that some of the hot air will be released.

Here’s a story from my own life to illustrate the point: One day, I bounded upstairs from my office and gleefully showed my wife a picture of me in TD magazine, the industry trade publication of the Association for Talent Development (Find out more at TD.org). I was being featured as a keynote speaker at one of the organization’s conferences. Then, I flipped past another couple of pages and showed her another picture of me! It turned out that I was speaking at two different conferences. As I looked at her with my “I have arrived” face, she slowly started to grimace and then, in that disgusted way that seems so universally spousal, she said, “Go clip your nose hairs!”

As you can imagine, all the hot air that had filled my head quickly dissipated. Everybody needs somebody who will keep his or her ego in check. You need that special someone who can hold up the mirror so you can catch yourself being yourself. You need at least one person who can clobber you with feedback when you’re full of trickery and self-deception. Love that person. Cherish that person. Give that person latitude to kick your fanny freely. That person can keep your ego from raging and your humility from falling asleep. We all need someone who can let us know when our nose hairs are getting too long.     Are you a leader? Do yourself and the people you’re leading a favor: Appoint a Chief Ego Deflator to keep your ego in check.

“Everybody needs somebody who will keep his or her ego in check. You need that special someone who can hold up the mirror so you can catch yourself being yourself. You need at least one person who can clobber you with feedback when you’re full of trickery and self-deception.”

Bill Treasurer is Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company. For over two decades, Treasurer has worked with thousands of leaders across the globe, strengthening their leadership influence. His newest book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, provides practical tips for building confidence and humility. His other bestselling books include “Leaders Open Doors,” “Courage Goes To Work” and “Right Risk.” His clients include NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Union Bank of Switzerland, Walsh Construction, Lenovo, Hugo Boss, Children’s Miracle Network and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More at BillTreasurer.com and CourageBuilding.com.

Leave a Comment