Is it Ego or Self-Confidence?

Dear Colleague,

I was talking to one of my banking clients and he told me about a book, It’s Your Ship, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. Captain Abrashoff commanded the USS Benfold during the Persian Gulf War. While his ship was armed with cutting-edge technology, his crew was pretty much a rag-tag, non-functional crew. He turned them into the best darn ship in the Navy.

How? By being humble. He ate at the table with his sailors, kept his personal ego out of decisions, and got rid of the tedious chores that created artificial hierarchies and provided little value. So I wanted to look at this issue; Is it Ego or Self-confidence? It doesn’t just include some of the recent examples of leadership and power that has gone awry. It’s about all of us looking in the mirror.

It takes a certain amount of Ego, self-assurance, confidence and maybe even a huge dose of complete self-absorption to do what most of us do in business. We stand up in front of rooms of unimpressed colleagues and give our opinion. We sit in meetings and make decisions that others aren’t going to support. Then we call people on the phone who don’t really want to talk to us.

So what’s wrong with having a big Ego? Isn’t ego what makes it all happen? Doesn’t it protect us from harsh reality and let us do our job without unnecessary fear, self-doubt, and angst?

Well, there is something wrong with it. The most damaging mistakes that we make are not a result of bad data or lack of intelligence. They are a result of our unchecked egos that create bad business deals, fracture good relationships, and stomp on great opportunities.

The funny thing about a person with a big ego is that we don’t even want them to succeed. We actually, secretly, hope they will fall flat on their face. Status and ego never get people to like us. Maybe envy us, but where does that get anyone?

Ego has us talking rather than listening. When ego does listen, it is with an ear toward Me, not You. Everything gets wrapped in determining how whatever another person is saying, directly relates to us and our stuff.

But wait a minute; are we really talking about us? Could we have some emotional narcissism and hubris lurking around our communication? Here is proof. Try not talking about yourself or your world for the first 5 minutes in the next conversation you have. Then try it with every conversation you have for just one day. It is almost impossible.

Watch how quickly we insert ourselves and our “one up / one down” experiences into the conversation, as we show that we are just a little more hip, or more educated, or more socially elevated, or our kids are making better grades, or we’re definitely going on cooler vacations, than anyone else

Can we move from ego to the better place, where self-confidence reigns supreme?

It’s a matter of shifting perception. Self-confidence is about influence, not rank. There is humbleness to it. It empowers others and encourages them to do better. Self-confident leaders make us feel good about ourselves. We may not remember everything that they say to us, but we remember how they make us feel.

A self-confident person hangs out in his or her rightful place and shares the credit-always. It is about the team, not them. Self-confidence is not a position and it’s not really about power. Self-confidence is a balance of knowing what you are doing, being credible, and staying human.

Self-confident leaders put everyone shoulder to shoulder and on a level playing field so that the team wins, not just them. They share the spoils; they show a generosity of spirit.

Given that, here are 4 suggestions for projecting self-confidence while keeping your ego in check:

  1. Create the human moments that diminish the perception of your ego. Smile, slow down, make eye contact, and bring the donuts or the danish.
  2. Ask questions. Give others time and space to contribute. Ego wants to have the last word. Self-confidence holds back.
  3. Pay attention to how you are impacting others. Stop talking when you see others shutting down. Body language, nuances, and nonverbal communication are more important than anything being said.
  4. Apologize. As hard and counter-intuitive as it may seem in a self-important world of “never having to say you’re sorry.” It clears up the interference and gets things back on track. With sincere and well-grounded self-confidence, we all win. And that feels much better and lasts years longer than short lived ego ever will.

Susan sig