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The Paradox: Ego & Humility

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Humility. The quintessential character trait. Right?

Remember when Jim Collins, in his book "Good to Great," said that two-thirds of the companies he studied didn't make the leap from good to great because they were weighed down by the "presence of gargantuan personal ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company?"

Extreme personal humility was one of the two unique traits his "Level 5" leaders had.

We recognize the names of many who fit in that two-thirds group: Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling (Enron), Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) and Carly Fiorina (HP). The list goes on and on.  And that's only the business world. What about Tiger Woods and John Edwards? Any "gargantuan personal ego" at work in their cases? You think?

What is it about ego that allows leaders to get to good, but without humility, does not allow them to move to great? Doesn't it seem like ego is something we've got to have if we want to succeed, but having it often interferes with the success we're after?

Columnist Linda Campbell (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) said in her Feb. 7 editorial, "When ego trumps self-awareness" in the Des Moines Sunday Register, that "Presidents and Oval Office aspirers are egotists. The tame and insecure don't have the self-assurance to convince themselves or others they can lead the free world's most powerful nation...But self-awareness and good judgment are crucial in successful national leaders."

That's the paradox, huh?

In their book, Egonomics, David Marcum and Steven Smith say, "Ego is a free radical." I love that analogy. Our bodies need free radicals to be healthy, to fight viruses and bacteria. But when free radicals go amok, they can kill us, attacking our good cells and vital tissue. That's exactly what ego does to leaders' character when their egos run amok.

In my workshops, I talk about a concept called, "crucial moments." Crucial moments are those points in time when the next action we take will either take us down a good path; a path we will feel good about having taken because it leads to what we ultimately really want. Or our next action takes us off-course, down a path we might later regret.

Everyone of us faces scores of these crucial moments every day. Many of these moments are of small significance. But occasionally, the next step we take -- the next choice we make --  can lead to a life-changing outcome. It did with the leaders mentioned above. It can with you and me. And we often don't know at the time the significance of that one "next step."

There's the rub, huh?

Think of your daily crucial moments. What role does your ego play in those choices? Like the tag line for the CHARACTER COUNTS! in Iowa program: "Everywhere, all of the time."

Our ego -- like our character of humility -- is always there, always available, always at risk. Every moment counts!

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Comments

Really enjoyed this post. What a great topic.

Shirley--great article; fascinating subject!

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