It’s a given that when we become too egotistical, our leadership suffers. From Enron to Iraq, we all know stories of how leaders driven by excessive ego have brought their teams, and indeed countries, to the edge and beyond in a tireless quest to win at all costs.
The concept of an ‘Egolibrium’ was coined by Steve Smith and Dave Marcum in their groundbreaking book Egonomics. It’s been my pleasure to learn from Steve recently, and teach their concepts to the world’s largest software business. So this article attempts to share some of the profound ideas from this book, and illustrate how it is part of a new and positive paradigm that is creating a values based approach to profit.
In any discussion about the role of EGO in the office, one question is key: ‘How do you develop the personal qualities required to lead extraordinary teams? The answer – a balance of extreme ego drive with a sense of intense humility.
The simple concept of Egonomics has taken this a step further: your ego is either an asset or a liability in the balance sheet of your life. Learning to develop the three traits of Egonomics, Humility, Curiosity and Veracity (or the search for truth), ensures you maintain ‘Egolibrium’. However we seldom witness this balance, and instead see many leaders following the short-term ego driven ‘me first’ mentality. As we look how to re-build our shattered economies, we must look at how we reward business models that make a difference for all communities as well as shareholders – and this is where great leadership and EGO come in.
The first of the traits, humility, is the most challenging to develop and the easiest to ignore. Leaders don’t openly embrace humility because we associate it with a humble and compromising demeanor more suited to spiritual saints than city slickers. Yet when I look at the great leaders that have inspired me in my career, my mentor Paul Kenny, my former business partner Jason Hingley and my friend and mentor Bruce Daisley, and it is their humility alongside their brilliance that makes them extraordinary.
The first principle behind ‘humility’, is the law of “We then I”. The ability of an individual to see the bigger picture – great leaders often realise it is more helpful to put the common endeavor before individual selfish need. Unfortunately many of us have been poisoned by the individual culture of the past 30 years! So at the heart of what I call “Paradoxical Leadership” sits the idea that great leaders think of the needs of the collective before themselves.
So what else makes up the humility shown by exceptional leaders? The principle of “I’m brilliant and I’m not” – an understanding, that despite our personal excellence, we still have a huge amount to learn. The final principle of humility – “one more thing”, ensures great leaders always have open minds. The best leaders leave no stone unturned in the search for excellence – however brilliant an idea or plan, it can always be improved. It’s this principle that led U2 to produce best-selling albums after 20 years and claim that they haven’t yet produced their greatest song.
In reviewing the three ingredients of humility –putting the ‘we’ first and being open to others brilliance and searching for one more thing – the possibility that we too could be great leaders comes a step closer. When combined with Curiosity and Veracity (which we will talk about in future articles) it helps create outstanding individuals, leaders and teams.
However beware! These ideas seem so easy and manageable to implement. What is scary is how easy it is to come off balance or be pulled off centre. Perhaps that’s why we so often mention poor leaders before identifying great ones. So if you are a leader who wants to embrace these simple principles, Egonomics identified four early warning signs to stop you coming off the tracks, and becoming a victim of your Ego. I will be writing more about these warning signs and talking about them in our next, and first, Vodcast, which should be ready before the new year.