Are you completely awesome ... or is your ego getting out of hand instead?
Before we try to answer that, let's define ego first.
It was Sigmund Freud who defined the personality as being made up of the id, ego, and superego. He believed that these three parts combine together create a complete personality.
Therefore, your ego represents your passion, growth, drive, creativity, individuality, unique personality and reason. It's the go-getting and action-focused part of you. And it’s essential if you want to develop your skills and achieve your goals.
But as with many things in life, sometimes too much of a good thing is not so good at all.
Perhaps you’ve always believed you were a cut above everyone else. Perhaps you've been told how special you are. If you're more able, more driven and more determined than others -– and your career is going well -- that's a sign of just how awesome you are ... right?
The problem with ego comes when it gets out of sync with our superego (our ethical and socialised self) and our id (our instincts and animal needs). This dominance of the ego often leads to arrogance and over-confidence.
That's especially true if you're now in a position of authority.
As the boss, you expect your team to be the best. But as you cruise around the office, are you seen as an inspiring leader but instead something of a tyrant?
There's a difference between keeping your staff on their toes, expecting each one to go the extra mile and play your game ... and them actively fearing and hating you instead.
Maybe they had a boss they admired for their focus, productivity and success. Maybe they believed that success was down to them being tough and demanding ... and so you in turn think you need to be the same.
After all, if you had to set aside your personal life ahead of work, shouldn't your staff do the same? This is business and you need your team to perform.
In fact, everyone should toughen up, put the business first and do their time if they want the kind of success you’ve achieved. You don’t suffer fools and you’re not particularly interested in whining or personal problems. You’re in it to do well, gain the rewards, make some serious money or even to make up for earlier career setbacks or disappointments.
If these thoughts cross your mind on a regular basis, there's an excellent chance your ego is out of control and you're a tyrant in the workplace.
Because those are the kind of thoughts that give you believe it's right to behave and talk to others as you wish and make whatever demands you deem necessary. So you have no problem demanding others work long hours, be available ‘on demand’ and give up what’s important to them on your say-so.
Why becoming a tyrant is so dangerous
Because being dictatorial and overbearing isn’t a sign of strength. In fact, it’s a sign of weakness revealing an underlying sense of insecurity and fear. Far from covering up this vulnerability, controlling behaviour makes it more obvious.
After all, why would an adult need to behave like a playground bully if they're secure and confident in themselves?
Domineering behaviour is just the start of the problem. It’s what lies beneath that's potentially even more explosive: when someone’s ego takes over, it’s usually a lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, self-care and care for others.
This results in an ego-led boss resorting to external props such as money, sex, food, drink, drugs and gambling so they can cover the emptiness they feel inside.
The egotistical boss often has low moral standards too. They have affairs even if they’re already married. They believe they can do what they like even if it costs them money they don’t have, ruins their health or puts them at risk of financial or legal disaster.
It can also lead them to taking actions that will hurt or ruin other people´s lives.
A win-at-all-costs mentality replaces responsibility, respect for the legal and financial rules and for procedure. This is what leads to banks breaking trading rules and company executives to drain the staff pension fund.
Eventually, the external props – money, sex, possessions – become addictive and a fundamental part of their coping strategy. This makes it difficult to avoid destructive behaviour and acknowledge the real source of the problem. It’s far easier to bury feelings where they can’t access them and don’t have to deal with them.
Ultimately, the foundation of their entire being is wrapped up in their status and the behaviours that support the status they believe they have.
They resist looking into themselves because they know that if they acknowledge their inner emptiness they could fall apart. And because their behaviour has already alienated those who should be closest to them, they know they have no support system to help them during a possible crisis. Therefore they feel isolated, alone and not good about themselves.
Tribalism in the office
Excessive egos also tend to surround themselves with a tribe or gang of like-minded people. This tribalism causes rifts and results in a ‘them and us’ division in the workplace. When some are included in the inner circle and others left out, some staff are made to feel like outsiders.
This is very much how criminal gangs operate, and you have to ask whether this is either desirable or appropriate in the workplace. Apart from anything else, this kind of division can be expensive to a business. That's because good employees get side-lined, fired or eventually leave the organisation of their own accord. Others experience such a high level of stress, frustration and anxiety that their emotional, psychological and physical health is damaged and they underperform.
Tribal behaviour also allows the boss to cover up questionable ethics because it's supported by ‘the gang’. To be a part of the inner circle, each member has to perform some kind of initiation. It could be simply they're asked to fire someone, cover up a mistake or break a rule. But once they’re tainted, they get pulled in. The atmosphere becomes poisonous and threatening. The result is an entire culture of rule-breaking that leaves both individual staff members and the company at risk.
This leads to predatory behaviour such as stealing others’ ideas, taking credit for others’ work and making Machiavellian moves so they can take over high-profile projects by stealth.
Image is so important that they’ll protect it at all costs, even if it means lying or cheating. And if they can’t get what they want with the funds at their disposal, they’ll embezzle, engage in fraud and get money by any means because enough is never enough.
Of course, when all the usual control methods eventually fail – and inevitably, they do – everything starts to unravel both personally and professionally. The first fall-guys are those considered the most dispensable members of the inner circle. Their demise spreads fear and will often lead to greater compliance.
Someone else takes a fall. Someone else is sacrificed for the greater good. And the boss ensures nothing is questioned, which means the real issue never gets addressed, often for years.
If you recognise yourself in any of these descriptions and you want to change, there's a way to do so.
You’ll need to get support so you can make some changes to your behaviour. That’s going to mean asking for help, which won’t feel easy.
But you need to see a coach, counsellor or therapist who can guide you through the process of acknowledging your underlying issues and dealing with them.
To overcome your issues, you’ll need to be diligently aware of your old patterns, so you don’t succumb to your old behaviour. It’s the only way you’ll be able to change.
Illumination will come when you not only face who you have become but when you begin to engage your heart and soul in thinking and behaving differently. Then your career has greater purpose and fulfillment once again.
It may take time to work through the discomfort and pain that’s at the root of your behaviour, but the result will be worth all the effort as you switch back from being egotistical to awesome.
Do reach out to us at Career Consultants if you want to achieve more purpose in your career, if you need some support or if you want some help to get your career back on track.
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