Happy November, Leaders!
As we start leaning into the holiday season and year-end, both leaders and employees will likely feel increased stress. Whether that stress is personal or work-related, it takes a toll on more than just our ability to manage our emotions, it can decrease productivity, increase the rate of errors, and damage self-confidence.
Good leaders know that they're responsible for managing their own stress (take deep breaths!) while staying alert to signs of excess stress among team members. Taking the time to acknowledge the pressures and reiterate expectations can help a bit with productivity. Self-confidence, however, is trickier – it’s easy to pump yourself up so much that you become arrogant, blind to your own weak spots, and quick to alienate team members.
Don't get caught in the "ego trap" – Read on to learn more about "owning" your power as a leader without succumbing to an inflated ego!
Leadership Begins Within
Before seeking to lead others, a leader must first know and trust in their own strengths and connect with their core sense of purpose. Once they’re clear about their capabilities, leaders can operate decisively, from a place of self-assurance instead of self-doubt. Many leaders do this reasonably well, and their "centeredness" allows them to maintain a calm, confident state of mind.
For less-experienced or insecure leaders, the road to success can be rockier. Whether it's full-blown "imposter syndrome" or just simple self-judgment, all leaders will face faltering confidence during their careers. But some find themselves battling their inner critic even when putting forward displays of self-confidence, preventing them from fully embodying (feeling in their body) their power and authority.
Beware the Dark Side of Ego
The trappings of power (the corner office, the big salary, the fancy title) are both a blessing and a curse. Research shows that as a leader’s power increases, they are inclined to believe that they aren’t subject to the same rules (social norms) that apply to others. In fact, scholar and "anti-asshole advocate" Bob Sutton (whose blog is full of treasures) has summarized the findings of Stanford GSB Prof. Deborah Gruenfeld’s research findings as "power turns people into selfish and insensitive jerks, who act as if the rules that the rest of us have to follow don't apply to them."
What’s the impact of this ‘disinhibition’ on a leader’s behavior? Again, quoting Bob Sutton, "[Such leaders] tend to be more oblivious to what others think, more likely to pursue the satisfaction of their own appetites, poorer judges of other people's reactions, more likely to hold stereotypes, overly optimistic and more likely to take risks." Not exactly a recipe for an emotionally attuned leader...
Avoiding (or Escaping) the Ego Trap
Whether you have succumbed to the temptations of your positional power or you just want to check yourself, here are a few ways to lead with confidence rather than ego!
- "Pop" your bubble. Leaders whose egos reign supreme have a hard time hearing "no". When it’s your way or the highway, surrounding yourself with "yes people" is one of the surest ways to keep that ego fed. This creates an "echo chamber" where different or opposing ideas are quickly dashed. To avoid the risk of only ‘breathing your own exhaust,’ get out of your bubble by encouraging and rewarding team members who challenge you with new ideas and perspectives, reducing the differentiating perks and privileges between the top and bottom levels in the organization, or asking your teenager what they think of you (just kidding, this will likely deflate your ego, but maybe not in the best way). Taking such actions will naturally invite a more curious, open-minded, and people-centered (rather than self-centered) leadership style.
- Be authentic, even vulnerable. Great leadership recognizes that high status doesn’t equal infallibility. By acknowledging and being open about your own limitations and vulnerabilities, you’re showing your team that you trust them and value their unique gifts. And that you are more interested in being effective than in being Right. There’s no reason to pretend like you know everything – no one does, and no one can (OK, maybe the future AI-enabled search engines will). Say "I don’t know" when you don’t, then follow it up with a planned action – either "Let me find out and I’ll let you know" or "Let’s figure this out together."
- Work with a coach or mentor. There are many great reasons for working with an executive coach, and curtailing negative habits (like barking orders when you’re stressed out) is one of the most common. A skillful coach will challenge you, provide feedback, and help you self-reflect, allowing you to cultivate some much-needed gratitude to help tame the ego's boundless appetite.
I often suggest the mantra "Calm, Capable, and Curious" to the C-level execs I work with. This is a great way to cultivate executive presence: being calm helps people avoid over-reactions, feeling capable telegraphs the appropriate confidence that you can be trusted to lead, and staying curious provides the antidote to arrogance, keeping you open to the best ideas, wherever they come from. The most revered leaders keep their egos in check, avoiding insularity and keeping their feet on the ground.
How do YOU remain confident as a leader without becoming arrogant? What do you do to stay humble AND confident?
See you next month!
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