Leaders, egos, and conflict

Leaders with weak egos are oblivious to the disruptions they cause.

Leaders with weak egos (ironically, we see them as “big” egos) can create hostile conflict with and among their followers. Disengagement and lost productivity quickly follow.

Unfortunately, they also are oblivious to the disruptions they cause. Followers rarely wish to risk their positions by offering feedback to ego-ridden leaders who are unlikely to welcome it. They are also likely to displace such conflict with their leaders through conflict with each other.

Leaders with fragile egos cause conflict in several ways:

  1. Resistance to feedback: As mentioned, leaders with weak egos may not be receptive to feedback from others, leading to a lack of communication, misunderstandings, and unmet expectations. In addition, from those conflicts, people feel their opinions and perspectives are not being heard or valued.
  2. Micromanagement: Leaders with weak egos may feel they need to control every aspect of a project or situation, leading to micromanagement. This can create conflict when others feel they are not being trusted to do their jobs effectively. Micromanagement often comes from their unwillingness to acknowledge their discomfort with the leadership role. They seek refuge in micromanaging the work of others.
  3. Blaming: When things go wrong, they are more likely to blame others than accept responsibility. When others feel unfairly blamed or scapegoated, conflict is not far behind.
  4. High-handedness: Such leaders may need to unnecessarily assert their authority to prove to themselves that they still have it.
  5. Power struggles: These can lead to overt, often hostile attempts at gaining control over others with equal influence. Such tactics are attempts at further aggrandizement. As retaliation ensues, such battles repeat themselves.
  6. Trying to please too many: These leaders cause conflicts by trying to please everyone. Decision change depending on who is in front of them. This leads to conflicts between proponents of different decisions and the leader, though the latter may not be expressed.

Needing to please too many people is an ego issue, just as much as needing to control others, be right, or ‘look good’ are.

The conflicts described tend to remain unresolved as those who feel done-in, bullied or have accommodated will also retaliate but with obfuscation, subtle sabotage, and other forms of passive aggression. Confronting an ego-ridden, controlling boss is a high-risk option.

The conflicts are all of the win/lose variety in which leaders perceive some threat to their identity or self-esteem. They will always become lose/lose, and everyone will lose, including the leader and the organization they are to lead.

Leaders, like everyone else, have egos, and they bear a greater responsibility to manage their egos because of the extent of their impact on others.

What to do about our egos

The first step toward ego management is self-awareness. Awareness that only internally can we fulfill our needs for approval, control and being right. Seeking external fulfillment is a hopeless task that can lay waste to the more productive tasks of relationship building and team building.

Here are several strategies for keeping your ego in check and preventing conflicts. We’ve already mentioned self-awareness as the first step. It is a component of all that follows.

  1. Practice being a witness to your own thoughts and emotions: Noticing your thoughts and feelings allow you to recognize that they are processes you have. They are not who you are. You will notice that some of your thoughts are from your ego, while most are not. Choose with intention and forethought the thoughts and emotions you wish to carry out.
  2. Be curious: Be open to learning from any thought or idea that differs from your own. It will make you even smarter than you are now. Recognize you don’t have all the answers, nor do you need to. You have followers to augment and complement what you know. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something. Be humble, admit mistakes, apologize when necessary, and give credit to others when things go well.
  3. Build a support system: We cannot see our blind spots without help. We can rarely break ego habits by ourselves. Explicitly request your support people for feedback when they see you as ego-ridden. Notice if you are reluctant to invite your followers to support you. What ego needs lurk there?
  4. Foster open communication: Encourage open and honest communication within their team or organization and create a safe space for people to voice their concerns and ideas. This can help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts from escalating. Of course, you must be open and honest in your communications first.
  5. Keep the big picture in mind: Leaders should keep the goals and mission of their organization and the well-being of their people in mind. Do not distract yourself with petty disagreements or power struggles of your ego. Put collaboration and teamwork ahead of individual accomplishments.
  6. Take care of yourself: Make sure you care for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Leadership is only one aspect of your life. Do not disregard the other parts. They are equally vital to your overall health.

These strategies will help prevent conflicts and create a more positive and productive work environment. Just as important, you’ll approve of yourself more than you do now!

Our next article will offer ways to help others deal more effectively with their egos!

Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of the Center for Human Systems. Check him out on his website at www.CHumanS.com. Or email him at michael@chumans.com if you have questions about effectively leading or managing change.

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