Tag Archive for managers

10 Traits of Ego-Driven Leaders

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We all struggle with ego — every single one of us. Ego-driven leadership is one of the most toxic elements that can be introduced to a team or organization. How can you tell if your leadership is ego-driven?

1. Ego-driven leaders often measure their success by how much others notice their success. It becomes more about being the center of attention than it does about actually being successful in and of itself.

2. Ego-driven leaders often feel better about themselves when others around them don’t achieve or earn as much as they do.

3. Ego-driven leaders tend to undermine others so that they can appear to themselves and others to be smarter, better, etc.

4. Ego-driven leaders tend to drive others away over time. It’s incredibly taxing working for an ego-driven leader, because…

5. Ego-driven leaders tend to destroy trust and attempt to control others through whatever means necessary. This is exhausting for those who work with these leaders.

6. Ego-driven leaders are always looking for more praise, always looking for the next spotlight.

7. Status supplants service as the true, underlying motivator of the ego-driven leader.

8. Ego-driven leaders tend to be easily offended, even if their own behavior toward others is far more egregious. They’re quick to call others defensive, and quick to point out what they perceive to be faulty attitudes in others.

9. Ego-driven leaders tend to have a burning desire to be right. Every. Single. Time. Or so it seems to those around them.

10. Ego-driven leaders very rarely admit their faults without somehow rationalizing or blaming others.

So what do you think? Did I miss any?

Leaders Serve First

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The underlying philosophy of servant leadership is important to grasp.

Though it may at first glance seem to be an issue of semantics, the distinction between a leader who serves and a servant who leads is a fundamental one. What separates servant-leadership from other discussions of leadership is that it takes the approach of leadership not being the end-all, but instead a vehicle for the service of others. As Robert Greenleaf pointed out, “The servant-leader is servant first….It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

In other words, for the servant-leader, leadership is a means to an end rather than being an end to itself.

On the other hand, it could be that leaders who serve – in contrast with servant-leaders—view service as an essential and foundational element or component of leadership. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it is certainly a different mindset from the one mentioned above in that it limits service to a being just a piece of leadership rather than the heart of it. They may consider service an expectation of leadership, but not necessarily as the source or conceptual framework for leadership.

Perhaps it might be helpful to think of it this way. For leaders who happen to serve, service is part of how they lead, but not necessarily why they lead. Service is more the how of leadership than they why. That’s why so many advocates of servant-leadership argue that it should be thought of as “a way of being in the world,” as a professor of mine once said. When conceptualized this way, it becomes more akin to a worldview than simply a grouping of management tips.

This distinction – between a leader who serves and a servant-leader – has been an important point on which I’ve had to reflect. The notion that one is to be a servant first, then a leader, is one that looms increasingly large in my mind. The challenge, it seems, is at least partly one of motivation and mindset.

I’ve personally had to wrestle with the idea of both clarity and purity of my motivation. It seems that too easily ego subtly sneaks in and subverts service as a motivating factor. Masquerading as a desire to serve, ego may at times produce a service that is more rooted in a need for public affirmation and admiration than a selfless desire to seek the good of others over the good of self.

As with many things of this nature, self-awareness is a critical but difficult necessity. An impediment to this seems to be a lack of concerted and proactive effort to set aside significant time periods during which the primary focus is personal reflection, perhaps through contemplative practices.

Studying this over the past several months has rattled me to the core and begun a fundamental shift in the way I think about leadership and service, and has set me on a different trajectory both personally and professionally. It’s been an often-painful transition, but one that seems to have placed me on the path toward a more appropriate style of human leadership wherein serving others through leading well becomes a way of being in the world.

(A version of this article was first posted on the CU Water Cooler site.)

4 Ways Leaders Don’t Really Listen

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(A version of this post originally appeared on CU Insight.)

As the magical line from The Princess Bride goes, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.

And our teammates? They may not mean what we think they mean either.

Or what we’re assuming they mean.

Or what we’d like them to mean so that it would make it easier for our position in a discussion to appear to be better than theirs.

Of course this all becomes a bit uncomfortable if I’m the only one guilty of these things, but carry on we shall.

There seems to be at least four basic ways we “listen” (I’m doing big air quotes here), but don’t really listen. We’re…

1.    Ignoring

Maybe we’re checking our email, or engaged in a heated debate regarding the superiority of name-brand Pop Tarts over their off-brand counterparts, or even deciding whether or not to pursue our lifelong dream of becoming a professional kazoo orchestra conductor; but whatever it is that we’re doing, we’re doing it while another human is there talking to us. We don’t have a clue what that person is talking about because we’re ignoring them.

2.    Pretending

We nod in agreement while that person is talking, and it’s a very well-timed nod of course. We maintain periods of eye contact for as long as the other person does, but as soon as they break eye contact, it’s back to our previous distractions. It could even take the form of us rehearsing in our minds how we’re going to respond to the very thought that’s not yet been entirely expressed by the other person. A strategically placed utterance of “hmm…” never hurts. Are we really listening to people?

3.    Controlling

This one’s tricky because we can convince ourselves that we’re doing our part as leaders if we’re simply sitting there paying attention and not interrupting while someone is talking. The truth is that we can potentially be controlling and manipulative with or without saying a word. People are influenced by other people’s gestures, facial expressions, body language, breathing patterns, audible noises, and so on in addition to their words. We can make people feel inadequate, or like they need to soften their message, or even like they must wholly acquiesce to our every wish if we’re not careful; because the folks with whom we’re speaking are either consciously or subconsciously interpreting all of that stuff.

The scary truth is that some of us are probably controlling without even realizing it. The scarier truth is that some of us are probably controlling intentionally.

 4.    Projecting

An easy way to get a handle on understanding projecting and the resulting frustration it can cause would be to remind yourself of almost any recent presidential debate. Projecting – be it consciously or subconsciously – is a way of life for many politicians, especially in a debate scenario.

Politician A will be prattling on about this or that when suddenly Politician B will enter into the dialogue, finishing Politician A’s thought the way he/she (Politician B) thinks it goes or wants it to go; following which Politician B is so kind as to offer a preemptive response to the argument that he/she partially projected. Many straw men were born this way. (Darn you, Lady Gaga.)

So what’s the point? Listening isn’t as simple and easy as we think it is, and we may not be listening as often or as well as we think we are. Some refer to listening as an art, and if we think of it that way, doing it extremely well is going to take enormous amounts of practice, experience, humility, feedback, and self-awareness. Looking in the mirror is the first and most difficult step.