Yes, Your Ego IS in the Way: On Humility and Management
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I’ve been in environments that were not nearly so healthy. One in specific where the egos of my fellow managers were matched only by the thinness of their skins. This made most every conversation painful. Sometimes even when the point of the conversation was to pile heaps of praise on an over-egoed, thin-skinned peer.
Comparing these two local environments (I’m not referring to the larger organizations in which they were embedded) I can clearly see how a bit of humility can completely alter relationships both within a management peer group and up and down its management chain.
When managers have some humility they speak frankly to one another and call each other out on half-baked ideas, even in front of others outside of the peer group. Because of humility, problems and issues are quickly identified, surrounded, and resolved. This is a collective and collaborate activity.
When managers are all ego they cannot deliver or accept feedback from one another. They do battle over whether an issue exists and how to go about solving it. They are focused on their own individual agendas and assume that their peers are similarly self-centered in their motives.
The teams that report to humble managers can go about their duties confident that their manager will hear and respect their ideas and opinions. These teams tend to behave with respect toward other teams.
Ego-driven managers let their teams get into messy battles with other teams then defend their teams in these disputes out of blind ego. Paradoxically, ego-driven managers will whip their own reports if an idea or opinion threatens the manager’s ego.
More humble managers seek to resolve issues within their peer group. They keep their managers informed and escalate as necessary but they try not to bother their managers with petty crap.
Ego-driven managers often cannot resolve issues within their peer group. They escalate to their managers as soon as a potential ego-bruising conversation is in sight. Once multiple levels of management get involved even the smallest of issues can result in the deployment of heavy artillery. Productivity and team morale often become hapless victims.
However, an ego-driven, trans-management cluster-fracas can only happen when the upper managers allow it to happen. In unfortunate fact, I’ve known upper managers who encourage egoistic behavior within their direct reports just so they can step into the firefight and “add value” by sorting out the mess. This is an extreme case. Nonetheless, you can behave like an over-egoed jerk at your workplace only if your manager lets you.
Returning to the larger point, it is a real pleasure to manage among managers with humility.