Three Ways to Remove Ego from Decision-Making (HBR)

When President Barack Obama wrestled in 2009 with the issue of what to do next in Afghanistan, there is absolutely one thing he could not do: Make it personal. That is precisely the mistake that his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson made when escalating the war in Vietnam.

Again and again, as is made clear by listening to tapes of him in the Oval Office, Johnson personalized the war not as the United States versus North Vietnam (or Russia and China), but as LBJ against the world, be it the enemy abroad or those inside his administration and throughout the nation who protested the war.

Let us be clear, personalization is not the same as passion. Leaders need to have conviction about what they do; they need to love their work and the people who do it. That’s passion. By contrast, personalization is the conflation of ego and hubris; it causes a loss of focus because the executive puts what he wants to do ahead of what the company should do. Personalization is the enemy of the business case, and for that reason you should avoid it. So here are three questions that every leader must ask when making a decision that will have significant consequence on the organization.

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First posted on HBR.org 10/08/2009