Marketing leadership: The dangers of ego

Earlier this year, I shared four leadership lessons to help people be more effective in leading their teams. Lesson 2 had an important element to servant leadership: “Check your ego at the door.” 

Egotism can be a killer of relationships

Sometimes, there can be a fine line between self-confidence and egotism. The former is a key leadership attribute, while the latter is a leadership inhibitor.

At times, we confuse the two – so it’s important to watch ourselves, so we don’t go too far into the “ego zone.”

At Digital Summit Indianapolis, Olympic gold-medal gymnast, Dominque Dawes, shared some important insights from her own experience on the dangers of ego.

She applied her lessons to teamwork and family life, but the dangers of too much ego also apply directly to leadership and business relationships.

Now, here is a person who has a lot to brag about. Despite that, her keynote address was full of lessons on how ego can get in the way of success.

She even started her talk by showing a video of one of her greatest public failures – the infamous fall during her 1996 Olympic floor exercise routine. Talk about checking your ego at the door!

Dawes pointed out that when you let your ego take over, you see other people’s faults magnified. When you start seeing everything “wrong” with others, it divides the team (or family or business).

You communicate that directly and indirectly if you’re a leader who sees nothing but faults. When this happens, the people you are supposed to lead become discouraged.

Eventually, the team falls apart due to divisions and favoritism.

Dealing with negative situations

A good leader learns how to deal with negative situations and use them as teaching opportunities.

One way to do this is what business leader Dave Ramsey calls a “reprimand sandwich.”

In this process, take time to tell the person:

  • What they did right.
  • What they did wrong.
  • Then, focus again on things they are doing well. 

A discussion like this frames up the negativity in light of positive things.

Instead of being a “finger-pointing” exercise, it encourages people to overcome shortcomings by building on what they do well.


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How this applies to business relationships

Ego can also get in the way of relationships with supported teams and clients.

I have found that success or failure as a digital marketing practitioner can hinge on how well the person can explain complex, technical aspects of SEO, PPC, and other areas without talking over people's heads or talking down to them. 

I had a teacher in school who, it seemed, liked to hear themself talk.

Lectures would happen at a lightning pace until someone asked them a question. Then, they would switch to talking to the class like an assembly of kindergarteners. 

Don't be like that teacher.

Put your ego aside and learn how to better communicate with the people you interact with. Connecting with them sans ego will help you better show the value of what you bring to the relationship.

One of the best summaries of putting egos aside in business relationships was by Bill Reeb, former CEO of Wilsonart International.

It was quite simple: "Serve the Customer. Serve the Enterprise. Serve the People."

I didn't know Reeb personally, but in my professional interactions with him, he was always attentive to ideas, even when he didn't agree with them. When he did disagree, he had solid reasons for doing so and shared them in a kind and professional manner.

I have an engraved pocket knife on my shelf that he gave me during one such interaction. It was a reward for sharing an idea because he seemed to appreciate it despite his disagreement with that specific suggestion.

That's a great example of checking your ego at the door.

Takeaways for leaders and brands

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may need to work on checking your ego.

  • As a leader, do you spend too much time talking about your successes and not enough about the lessons you learned from failures? 
  • As a leader, do you spend all your time nit-picking and finding faults in the people around you instead of noticing the good things?
  • As a leader, do you automatically dismiss input and ideas from people with less experience instead of genuinely listening?
  • As a colleague or business partner, do you talk above people's heads or talk down to them instead of connecting with them on a personal level?
  • As a brand, is your website content only a repeat of your advertising instead of providing potential customers the practical and helpful information they need to choose you?

Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for candid feedback on how others perceive your behavior.

Egotistical behavior can often be a blind spot for all of us.

If you ask, be prepared because you might not like what you hear. It can be another exercise to help you learn to check your ego at the door.

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