Ditch them. Shrink them. Leave them at the door. All in all, egos get a bad rap. An October 2013 article by researchers from Harvard, Duke and the University of Michigan in the Academy Management Journal was heralded as proof that leaders’ egos can be destructive to teams and companies because people who thought themselves powerful often shut down communication and made teams less effective
Not so fast, HR consultant Jen Shirkani says. The Bedford, NH-based founder of Penumbra Group and author of Ego vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps with Emotional Intelligence says we all have egos and they tend to be bigger and bolder in successful people. In fact, you need a healthy ego to be effective in the workplace, otherwise you can come across as weak and ineffective.
"A healthy ego is feeling secure enough in my own ideas and direction that I can share them with others in a way that’s inspirational and not feel threatened by feedback or criticism," she says.
Shirkani says you can tell if your ego is healthy, rather than obnoxious and productivity-killing, based on where it’s focused and how you’re interacting with others. If your demanding nature is focused mainly around the company’s performance and your team’s outcomes, that’s typically healthier than if you’re looking for personal accolades and status.
If people around you actually give you feedback or, better, push-back on some of your ideas rather than agreeing with you all the time, that’s another good sign that your swagger isn’t stifling them. And when you have that healthy ego, she says there are several ways it benefits those around you.
Bounce back fast. Got a setback? No problem. People with healthy egos tend to bounce back faster and find a new way because they believe they can, Shirkani says. When salespeople hear "no," those who believe in themselves don’t waste a lot of time licking their wounds. Instead, they move on to the next opportunity.
Inspire others. When a self-confident leader you respect says he or she believes you can do something, that’s a powerful motivator and confidence-booster, Shirkani says. When you have that kind of belief in yourself, you can help your team members and co-workers see their own strengths. The inclination to do so is also proof positive that your ego is assured rather than arrogant.
Produce better performance. When you’re in a position of power, whether it’s running a company or heading a project, giving directions and delegating responsibility doesn’t mean that those in your charge are going to carry it out well.
"You can either get performance or compliance. If they don’t care, they’ll just do the minimum to get the job done. When you have a healthy ego, people are going to want to do the job well for you because they believe in you," Shirkani says.
Be a better risk-taker. If you’re too low-ego, you might be afraid to take risks at all, which limits growth opportunities. At the same time, people who believe their own public relations may take risks or behave in ways that can damage the company or the team. When you’re somewhere in the middle—confident enough to take some risk, but not convinced that you’re a modern-day superhero—you’re more likely to take the reasonable risks you need to accomplish great things.
Default to positive. If you have a healthy ego, you tend to feel good about yourself and have a positive outlook, Shirkani says. A recent World Economic Forum report found that the workplace and particularly how people are managed has a "profound effect on their well-being." Being a positive leader in the workplace makes a difference both in the office and in the lives of the people with whom you work.