Mastering ego in leadership: A journey of self-discovery and growth

The hallmark of leaders with weak egos is their consistent need to defend themselves against almost any perception of weakness.

BY MICHAEL F. BROOM, Pd.D. | CEO, Center for Human Systems

Our egos are the guardians of our identity and self-worth. They shape our perceptions and actions in profound ways and offer a spectrum of strengths and vulnerabilities.

Leaders with robust egos possess a remarkable clarity about themselves. They navigate confidently, aware of their strengths and limitations, immune to the slings and arrows of detractors. Their journey is one of perpetual self-discovery, embracing growth as an eternal companion.

Consider the tale of a seasoned insurance company president. When his team accused him of being secretive and uncommunicative, he responded with candor, unaffected by the critique. He avoided defensiveness with a steadfast commitment to offering his best truth.

Contrast this with the plight of a major market TV station general manager whose ego stood weakly on shaky ground. With a thin facade of competence, he spent much of his time posturing rather than steering his ship.

Another leader, in denial of his incompetence, would reject any notion that his health center was not functioning as well as it might. His ego protected him from any discomfort at the expense of his ability to lead effectively.

The hallmark of leaders with weak egos is their consistent need to defend themselves against almost any perception of weakness. They may even claim credit for the work of others to “look good.” Faced with breakdowns, they cling to excuses and blame, leaving collateral damage in their wake.

Yet, most of us have normal egos that fluctuate from strong to weak with the tides of stress and circumstance. In moments of stress, however, our egos can be adamant about taking actions we may later regret.

As leaders, we can learn the art of ego management. Through deliberate practice, we can learn to manage our egos rather than be managed by them, even in times of stress. The leader, confronted by accusations of being uncommunicative, is a fine example.

Rather than retreating into defensiveness, he met the allegations head-on. He acknowledged his failings where warranted and corrected misunderstandings while maintaining his composure.

Over dinner, he confided about his struggle to restrain his impulse to argue and deny, a testament to the inner battle waged for integrity and connection. He had embraced his ego.

By acknowledging its existence, you can pave the way for conscious choices aligned with desires not shaded by ego. In this dance, you lead your egos, not vice versa.

Here are four compass points to help:

  1. Embrace Ego Transparency: Instead of veiling our ego-related aspirations in secrecy, let us lay them bare for all to see. By sharing our ego-related goals and rallying behind those of others, we foster an environment of mutual support and understanding. There is no need to be embarrassed by them.
  2. Challenge Ego-driven Resistance: When our ego leads us astray, compelling us to diminish the ideas of others in service of our own, let us be open to feedback. By accepting constructive criticism, we dismantle the barriers erected by our ego and pave the way for genuine collaboration.
  3. Confront Ego Avoidance: It’s human nature to shirk responsibility by deflecting blame onto others. Yet, we maintain our integrity and sense of wholeness by acknowledging and addressing our ego’s inclination to evade accountability for missteps.
  4. Contract for Ego Support: Trying to manage our egos alone is destined to fail and unnecessary. Ask those you trust to pull your coattails if they think your ego may be managing you.

It’s only our egos that are telling us not to embarrass ourselves by asking for such support. The positive response you receive will surprise you.

While these ideas for ego management may seem unusual, they are well worth undertaking. Yet hesitation often stalls our progress. We tiptoe around these ideas, fearing rejection or discomfort. But what if we reframed discomfort not as a foe but as a catalyst for growth?

If left unchecked, our egos can sabotage our noblest endeavors. So, we must confront our ego triggers—the cravings for validation, affirmation, or success—and reclaim control.

Michael F. Broom, Pd.D., is an organizational psychologist with 45 years of experience with various people and organizations. He is the author of The Infinite Organization and “Power, The Infinite Game with Donald Klein.

Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he founded the Center for Human Systems and is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for coaching and consulting for your organization at For more information on the Center for Human Systems and to check out its intensive programs and two-hour workshops, visit You’ll be surprised by the difference a single hour can make!

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