Egotism, especially at the workplace is an extremely harmful trait. Whether it is a manager, junior-level executive, or even an organization leader, having an inflated ego at any point can have severe consequences. 

Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy (2016) shows the dangerous consequences of egotism and charts out strategies for those in the corporate world to stay grounded, rein it in, and keep the ego in check.

Ego isn’t all that bad; having a healthy ego is good to a certain extent. A little bit of ego is needed to compete, to surpass our own achievements, and to even convince others of our abilities. Yet there is a very thin line between an inflated ego and the healthy one. A line that is too easy to cross.

Ego Vs. Ambition

Ego thrives on fame, recognition, and success. The desire to achieve these is so strong that one tries to get them by any means, without deserving it.

Former US President Ulysses Grant is a good example. He ran for president after Abraham Lincoln’s second term was nearing the end. Being a reputed general in the US Army, he was popular, but he was also new to the world of politics. His desire to hold the highest office in the country without experience was egotism.

On the other hand, William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant’s colleague and a general in the army as well, was ambitious, but not egotistic. During many talks with Lincoln himself, Sherman showed no desire to run for president. His priority was to excel in his own field – military leadership. He focused on bettering himself in his field and knew that his expertise and recognition in the Army would not suffice for Presidency.

Ambition differs from ego. Egotists desire recognition and fame, whereas the ambitious set their sights on excelling in their field.

Ego is the Enemy - Ryan Holiday
Ego is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday

Ego Vs Learning

Ego considers itself very clever. An egotist tends to have the belief that he or she knows everything and that there isn’t anything new that they can learn. Such people do not have the humility to accept that they might not know it all and that someone could have more knowledge than they do.

It is easy for your ego to get the better of you if you are good at anything. The trick is for us to think that we have much to learn and that there are others who are better than us.

The guitarist Kirk Hammet had the chance to be part of the world-famous rock band Metallica. Instead of joining them, he chose to study under Joe Satriani, the famous guitar virtuoso, and better his skills. He knew that with Metallica, he would never learn as much he did had he become just a member of the band. He had chosen to rein in his ego and learn more.

Another way to suppress the ego is to pass on the learning. Those who are good at a skill should pick a mentor to learn under as well as choose a novice to mentor. There was never a better equalizer than teaching.

Ego Vs Self-Improvement

Once we taste success, we tend to bask in the laurels for longer than we should. Would we have had iPhones today had Steve Jobs been content with his Apple II computer?

While pride and ego have different meanings, they go hand-in-hand. Ego is justified by one’s sense of pride. When we are proud of achieving something, we tend to sit back, relax, and bask in the limelight. Both pride and the resulting ego thwart one’s ability to try something new, to better oneself, and to push harder to do greater things.

Pride and ego play a part in deafening us to warnings and make us defensive to critics. People’s ego tells them that they are the best and can even get aggressive if someone tells them otherwise. Pride and ego will a person to fight anything that can seem like a conflict.

One way to rein in pride is to consider how a more humble person would perceive the criticisms given.

Ego Vs Delegation

In the corporate world, there are many cases where a manager is unable to delegate work to the team. They find it tough to trust other team members and co-workers. Especially for those who find success and step up the designation ladder due to individual successes, delegation seems difficult because they are unable to see that others might be able to do a better job than them. They often fail to see that delegation of work gives them more time to better themselves and aim for higher goals.

John Delorean left his job at General Motors because he thought he was better at car manufacturing, and more knowledgeable than his bosses there. However, when he started his own venture, he became more dictatorial in his management style, with his ego getting the better of him. Discarding the stable management style that was used in GM, he needed to sign off on every decision. His company eventually failed and he went bankrupt.

Ego Vs Humility

No one works in isolation. Our successes are always attributed to the hard work and contribution of those working with or around us. Often, people let their success and accomplishments go to their heads and think that their success is theirs, and theirs alone.

If we look at the examples of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, world-class basketball players with the LA Lakers, we can see how they both let their success of winning three championships back-to-back from 2000 to 2002 go to their heads.

Without realizing that it was their combination that worked seamlessly to win, both would constantly complain about each other to the media and to the teams. Finally, Bryant refused to sign-on another season with the Lakers if they didn’t trade-off O’Neal to another team, ending their successful streak.

Humility is an important virtue. One must have cognizance of the fact that their successes can never be attributed to themselves alone. Giving others the recognition they deserve helps form better workplace relationships. It is a pre-requisite for success in an environment that puts so much emphasis on optimism and going for more and bigger results.

Ego Vs Improvement

There are times when people find themselves underappreciated for the work they have done. For example, you might find that you get rejected for a job that you feel is made for you; one of your best ideas gets rejected by the manager, or even gets passed off for that much-deserved promotion.

In such times, it is natural that the ego gets hurt and we start resenting the people or the circumstances that lead to the result. However, unexpected undesirable results should be perceived as opportunities for improvement.

We should be honest with ourselves and consider the possibility that our work was not up to the mark and try to understand what went wrong. That way, one can rein in the ego and work harder to perform better than the best.

Our egos are part of our personalities. While we cannot do away with them completely, we can strive to ensure that they don’t spiral out of control and become detrimental to our success, affecting relationships and thereby our careers.