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Ego drives us to do extraordinary things. It makes people want to win; strive to be the best in their field or industry. But ego can also be the most destructive force imaginable. In Extreme Ownership, Jocko wrote: “Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. It can even stifle someone’s sense of self-preservation.” When you can’t control your ego, it can become the greatest instrument of your own destruction.
Humility: The Most Important Quality in a Leader
At Echelon Front, we get asked all the time: What is the most important quality in a leader? Without a doubt, the answer is humility. The reason? Without humility, you can’t listen to anyone. You can’t learn from anyone else. You can’t open your mind to new methods of doing things, or new technology to improve performance. Without humility, you stop respecting your competition. You get complacent. Worst of all, without humility, you can’t self-assess. Your ego prevents you from conducting an honest, self-assessment to analyze what you can do better, where you can improve, and the mistakes that you’ve made. Without such self-assessment, you can never improve. You can never solve problems. You may never even admit that problems exist.
When Someone Disagrees, Assume They Know Something You Don’t
Instead of letting your ego control you and going on the attack, when someone questions or disagrees with you, listen to them. Assume they know something you don’t. Even if they have less experience than you. If you listen to them, you might learn something, or see a perspective you missed previously.
When someone has a different perspective, ask them earnest questions so you can better understand where they are coming from. Either you will learn something you didn’t know, or you can help them see a different perspective.
In every situation, you should continuously self-assess: How could you have done it better? How could you communicate more clearly? How could you ask for clarification? How could you have followed up sooner? What could you have done to build a better relationship? How could you have improved the situation? No one is at optimal performance when it comes to leadership. There is always something to improve upon.
I spoke with a highly successful leader who built an outstanding company experiencing rapid growth and huge market expansion. I asked him, “What have been the key drivers for the company’s success?”
“I recognized the shortfalls in my knowledge and experience,” he answered. “I don’t need to be the one running everything. Instead, I realized I needed to bring in some people who are much smarter than me with real expertise in the areas where I am deficient. That has made all the difference for us.”
Determine one area this week where you need to do a better job putting your ego in check. Ask for someone else’s guidance or opinion on a subject where you normally would not do so and listen to them. Or, reach out to someone with whom you’ve had some friction, take ownership of the issue, and explain where you will do better going forward. GO MAKE IT HAPPEN.