EGO – the enemy of outstanding leadership

EGO – the enemy of outstanding leadership

I remember reading a fine article some years, Mr Ken Blanchard. He  mentioned “Don’t Let Your Ego Stop You from Becoming a Servant Leader, wise words indeed.

EGO is the adrenaline that drives us forward, to improve and to succeed. However, it needs to be balanced and it should not crave for self-centred attention or forced outcomes. EGO becomes a problem when it takes over and starts to direct our every move. Giving the impression of self-importance and self-embellishment, for everyone around us, can be detrimental.  A leader’s, EGO is often reflected in their actions, which can have serious impacts to the image of the organisation and people that they work with. It is also give the perception practicing a low liability agenda with hidden objectives to achieve.

LEADERSHIP has evolved in last 3 decades!!

Leadership 25-30 years back,  was quite different from how leaders got their results until a decade into the 20th century. The top down command and control management style, is replaced with motivational and inspirational leadership style which empowers staff and provides opportunities of learning / training, and continue to grow in their career

At the same time in last 5 years, the high proliferation of social and professional media, has an ego and displaying it, appears to be a growing trend. Furthermore, surprising as it sounds, it often gets rewarded too !!  In a world of ambition with high rewards for success, egos do flourish for a while, but are not sustainable. Effective leaders who want to build sustainable success, ego will be their biggest inner enemy. 

How to spot an ego-driven leader ?  

Egoism is easy to spot. But its effects are hard to understand and solutions are challenging. Look out for some of these tell-tale signs, which sometimes can be subtle.

• Ignoring other’s opinions and ideas

• Likes to be seen as the “world class” or BOB (Best of Breed)

• Can’t see or not able to accept personal weaknesses

• On the lookout for mistakes made by others, points them out

• Complaining about others’ behaviours to protect oneself

• Not able to take fair criticism and get angry when criticised

• Want to be right all the time or at least project like one

• Can’t or won’t see others’ perspectives other than their own

• Ridicule, make fun or even bad mouth others on their back

Negative impact of ego-driven leadership on people and organisation

There are significant negative impacts of a sustained ego-driven leadership on employee performance, their morale,  employee turn-over, organisation top-line/ bottom-line. There’s a fine line between self-confidence and narcissism. 

What are some of the high level impacts:

There are many traits that we associate with EGO and their impacts. Research has exposed many interesting and useful signs to watch out out. In a People Management survey, is summarised the most common.

How does ego manifest itself?

An element of ego lives in all of us and plays a critical role in helping us to find our conscious self. From birth we are conditioned to behave and act using our egos. There are many ways, that we manifest ego, such as: 

• Materialistic values – associating your own or others’ self-worth with materials assets – It is a self-fulfilling philosophy.

• Creating an imagined Hierarchy – treating others differently on a fabricated hierarchy’s of society is also a type of an ego that we possess. We are trapped in this hierarchical system so severe that our vision is blurred to see what is happening around.

• Trapped in past glories – our egos are afraid of the unknown. Our past experiences, we are familiar with, make us comfortable giving a sense of security. Makes us resistant to change, stops our ability to unlearn, learn new skills, and remain current with “basic” technology.

• Attention seeking or need to self-embellish – attention-seeking behaviour is a conscious or unconscious, is a way to gain recognition or admiration from friends, employees or relatives.

• Feeling an inferiority Complex – suggestions, feedback or comments made related to personal work, can be seen as being challenged, creates anxiety and resistance, with negative reactions. 

• It just grows on you over the years – with age, experience, growth in job titles and other achievements, the ego also grows in its own direction. It happens to professionals from all walks of life. 

How to overcome ego ?

Firstly it is necessary to recognise that ego is at play, affecting individuals and whole work groups. Failure to see these signs, from peers, colleagues or managers, will create more stress. One should ask how realistic or objective is oneself and reflect on the behavioural impact upon self and others. 

Summarising some actions that can help to overcome ego…

• Seek mentorship with someone whose competence and independence you respect.

• Embrace humility genuinely and be less  “emphatic” 

• Develop a mentality to look out for positives in negatives (continue to work on negatives)

• Practice ‘Reverse Mentoring’ – like learning common technology from youngsters

• Learn and unlearn – continue the process lifelong

• Start to recognise good behaviours, efforts and ideas in others

• Share a vision and build trust with your team, peers, customers

• Identify and recognise your “true inner self”

• Live in the present and act for future, forget previous scars if any.

Take such feedback seriously and address it asap as required.


The best leaders are humble servants and visionaries who’ve managed to shrink their egos to make room for other people, ideas & ways of doing business. While there’s nothing wrong with competitive drive and excellent skills, you cannot reach your full potential by relying solely on these traits. To achieve your goals, you need cooperation & skills of other individuals. By practicing humility, being open to honest feedback, & ensuring you are constantly learning from others, you can help eliminate your blind spots, and increase your value as a leader. This will help you as a leader to have high transparency trust and confidence of your entire organisation.

I want to dedicate this article to my mentor Mr Shailesh Haribhakti who has had great influence on my career in many ways. His passion for creating inspirational leaders and installing leadership values is extra-ordinary. 

Let me finish this article with a quote from a great leader..

Chair of the Board, Board of Director, Independent Board of Director on multiple companies.

He is an exceptional leader who has kept egos and politics outside office doors consistently for more than 4 decades. His inquisitiveness and passion to learn new skills is to be seen to be believed. He embodies the classical saying “Treat others the way you want others to treat yourself ”. He is my role model. Thank you so much Shailesh Ji for
being there !!!


The best leaders are humble servants and visionaries who’ve managed to shrink their egos

About the Authors

Sanjay Desai
Talent Advisory | SCM Consulting | Speaker | Writer | Mentor

Sanjay holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Postgraduate in Materials Management from premier Indian business school. He is a Certified Logistics Professional from The Logistics Society, Singapore.  He is a certified CPIM practitioner from APICS, USA. He has completed formal Executive Leadership courses at INSEAD, Singapore. Sanjay runs Talent Development & Executive Placements in supply chain ecosystem across Asia Region based in Singapore. He sits as an Advisory Board Member for multiple start-up & small & medium businesses in Asia. He is an honorary Life Member for Institute of Directors (IOD) India. He serves as an Overseas Advisory Member on the board of SME Chambers, India. Prior, he has led diverse and world class supply chain verticals for MNC’s like VeriFone Inc, Huntsman Inc, ThermoFisher Scientific, JohnsonDiversey, DELL Global, Apple Inc, ExxonMobil, MOTUL Lubricants, Rhone-Poulence Rorer and UniLever Brothers.


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