Three Ways to Keep Your Ego in Check (HBR)

“It’s okay if other people think you’re God, but you’re in trouble if you start believing it.”

David Cornwell, a sports attorney, recalled that quote as one uttered by his father, a surgeon. While Cornwell was speaking on Larry King Liveabout Tiger Woods’ foibles, the quote has relevance to anyone in a leadership position, not just doctors and big name athletes.

Sure, leaders have to believe in themselves — otherwise no one else will. Their conviction in their own abilities has to be strong as well as resilient, but such self-assurance cannot be allowed to become arrogance. So often when we see business leaders making poor decisions it seems as if their ego is speaking louder than their voice of reason.

And yet we need to remember that, while it’s easy to throw stones at people and power, and lampoon their outsized egos when they stumble, so often that outsize ego is the result of the relentless fawning of others. You do not rise to power without followers, but if that followership is more sycophantic than supportive, the leader can lose his bearings.

Keeping your ego in check is an exercise in humility, with the emphasis on the word exercise, so here are a few tips:

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First posted on 12/10/2009