But I’m the boss! How a big ego demotivates a team big time

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Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

While there’s some talk about the benefits of flat work teams, traditional hierarchy is alive and well in most corporations. Not that there aren’t some good reasons for that. Somebody has to be in charge, right? When everyone leads, no one is leading—at least that’s my experience.

That said, one appeal of flat teams is the possibility of avoiding the trouble that erupts when the boss is just too darn bossy.

When a “boss ego” gets in the way

In “How to Deal with a Narcissist, Part 2,” Dr. George Simon, a well-known psychologist and author of three books on character disturbance, writes:

“We all start out in life as narcissists. That is, from infancy through early childhood, we tend to think the world revolves around us and around our desires … A big part of developing a mature, decent character has to do with overcoming our natural egocentrism and coming to a mental and emotional place where we can truly value, empathize with, and have consideration for the rights, needs, and desires of others.”  

We can infer from the passage that ego in and of itself is not a bad thing. But when we don’t reach that “mental and emotional place” referenced (and Dr. Simon describes later in the article how some of us get “stuck”), an unhealthy (narcissist) ego forms. And an unhealthy ego leads to unhealthy relationships, including unhealthy work relationships.

Maynard Brusman, a psychologist and author of “The Costs of Ego,” lists these negative workplace phenomenon caused by big egos.

  1. Hearing, but not listening
  2. People thinking “me first, company second”
  3. People thinking only the “right” people have good ideas
  4. Pressure to fit in
  5. Failure to challenge status quo
  6. Candid discussions are saved for outside meetings
  7. Failures being buried and never mentioned again
  8. Silos created and tolerated
  9. Meetings going longer than necessary
  10. Fear of making mistakes or of admitting them

Brusman quotes Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, as saying:

“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.”

My oh my.

As much as we love to promote into leadership people who exude confidence and an apparent unshakeable confidence in their own abilities, it turns out that a humungous ego is not good for business at all.

Why not?

People with big heads don’t listen very well; make poor decisions (because they’re too stubborn and full of themselves to accept input from others); alienate team members with their unpleasant personalities, unreasonable demands, and sense of entitlement; and can even render themselves stupid with their extreme tunnel vision and inordinate focus on their own needs and wants.

What’s better? Fortunately, most bosses with outsized egos aren’t pathologic, and so change, while difficult, is a definite possibility.

If you manage someone whose opinion of himself is a little too high, here are some things you can do to bring this employee down to earth and help your business in the process.

  • Set limits and boundaries – Your manager gets her authority from you, which means (a) you’re legally liable for her bad behavior and (b) she can’t do what you won’t allow. For the sake of your business (and your employees’ mental health) take these truisms to heart, please.
  • Hold your employee accountable – Hold your employee accountable to company policies, procedures, and codes of conduct.
  • Take complaints seriously – If you get complaints about the bossy boss, listen and take appropriate corrective action when needed.
  • Help your bossy boss practice empathy one study suggests that non-clinical narcissists can learn to be more empathetic if they’re reminded to consider other people’s feelings. I admit to being a little skeptical, but why not give it a try?

A too-bossy boss costs your business in countless ways. Why would you allow that?

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