How many people do you know who only talk about themselves, tend to be self-promoting, know everything, are always right and always need to have the last word? Do you know people who always consider their needs to be more important than those of others? This is the world of the egotist. What are the implications of having an egotist for a leader?
In evolutionary terms the ego provides a healthy sense of self worth, and has a primitive instinctive role in survival. But in modern times the ego can become an obstacle to personal development, leading to narcissism, arrogance and individual and corporate failures.
The word ego derives from the Latin word meaning “I” and is now often used in connection with self-identity. The ego determines feelings of personal value and self-worth, and originates from our primitive survival instinct, and the belief that I must survive at all costs. In a primitive world it was a fight for survival. Putting yourself first was a requirement, defending against predators and competing with other tribes for food was a matter of life or death. In the twenty first century, most of us no longer need to fight to live, but the instinct remains to put ourselves first.
You could say that there is an egotism continuum, from selflessness and altruism at one end, to arrogance and narcissism at the other. A healthy balance is likely to be found in the middle of this continuum with an optimal level of self-worth, self-value and self-assuredness. For some people ego as a survival instinct becomes a dominant driving force, with the need to be the paramount important being. This is when the ego’s drive to maintain a favourable view of self is overtaken by an inflated opinion of personal abilities and a grandiose sense of own importance.
The author Jarod Kintz wrote, “As I was driving down Beach Blvd., I saw a building that said, “Self Storage,” and I thought, “I wonder if my ego could possibly fit in just one unit”.”
So why should we concern ourselves with egotists? The issue is when an egotist holds a leadership position, then their inability to recognise the accomplishments of others, the inability to listen to others, and the arrogant notion that they are always right and there is not an alternative perspective can cause significant problems. As egotists are so self promoting and with a drive to demonstrate their superiority, they are likely to hold senior positions in organisations.
As an egotist is always right, they are unlikely to change or develop. Why should they change; they’re perfect as they are! They are experts, and nobody can teach them anything. However we see business leaders making poor decisions, big and small. This is because their ego is dominant and overrides the voice of reason. The voice of reason can come from the challenge of other people in an organisation. But the egotist is unlikely to listen as they are not receptive and not open to feedback. Egotism develops in the absence of feedback.
From what I’ve read, the way to overcome egotism is to stop it! To stop being arrogant and start being humble, to stop having to be right and to start listening to others, etc. This approach does not sound very sophisticated, and reminds me of the Bob Newhart “Stop It” video (see it on You Tube). As this video suggests, it is ridiculous to just say stop it, this approach won’t work.
So how do you coach an egotist? Well I would suggest that you couldn’t. Another problem associated with overcoming egotism is that they are not receptive to development. Looking back on all the people I have coached, I haven’t coached any egotists. The people I have worked with are humble, willing to learn and ready to change. This is typically the nature of people who come to coaching and is the complete opposite of an egotist. So an egotist must be ready and willing to be developed before any change can take place. This readiness for development is not likely to come from on-going success, as behaviour is reinforced and habits strengthened. The realisation of the need for change is likely to come from failure that shocks the egotist into a new way of thinking. This failure can come in many forms such as divorce, bankruptcy, redundancy, not winning a contract, not achieving a promotion, etc. But there has to be a shock to shake the ego and create space for introspection and possible alternative approaches.
Deepek Chopra the Indian-American author and holistic health guru said “The ego relies on the familiar. It is reluctant to experience the unknown, which is the very essence of life.”
What’s your experience with egotists? Have you coached egotists?