7 Signs That You Have an Ego Problem

Ego Trap

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, 2 in 5 CEOs fail within their first 18 months of leading an organization. Even 1 in 3 chief executives from Fortune 500 companies don’t make it past three years. What’s going on?

I believe many of these failures in leadership positions can be traced back to a single root cause: ego.

On its face, having an ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. An ego is typically the byproduct of past successes—often successes that required overcoming great odds. Ego can supply the fuel that drives self-confidence, self-respect, and the ability to take risks and seize opportunities.

But an unchecked ego can overpower and devour a leader’s humility and his or her willingness to learn, to be challenged, and to trust others. All of this leads to losing touch with what matters the most: relationships with people. Customers. Employees. Stakeholders. Family. Friends.

So here’s the question for you: Are you falling into the ego trap?

To help you answer that question, here are seven of the most common ego traps that will destroy your business career:

You don’t ask questions.

Despite what you may think, you don’t have all the answers, all the time! Admitting that you don’t have an answer to a question doesn’t mean that you’re uninformed, stupid, or weak.

If you’re falling into this ego trap, a common sign is that you might not be reaching out to employees, customers, or business partners, for things like:

  • Questions about what you’re working on;
  • Feedback on your ideas;
  • Or clarity on something you don’t understand.

Asking questions and admitting that you’re willing to learn are signs of a strong leader—not a weak one.

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Ignoring feedback you don’t like.

Yes, the truth can hurt! But every leader needs to hear it, embrace it, and respond to it, even if they don’t like it.

Your ego may be a problem if:

  • No one ever provides you with negative or constructive feedback;
  • You never ask for feedback;
  • You’re offended by, or ignore, feedback when it is given;
  • Or you take the attitude of: “If they don’t like the way I do things, they can go somewhere else.”

Proactively seeking and being open to feedback is a trait of healthy leader.

Only surrounding yourself with ‘yes’ people.

When you surround yourself with people who are just like you, you create a support system of ‘yes’ people. These are people who will not challenge you or the way you think, or offer you alternative paths of thought or action.

Your ego may be getting in the way if:

  • No one in your inner-circle has a work or communication style that differs from your own;
  • Your inner-circle reaches unanimous decisions quickly, with few or no challenges to the viewpoints expressed to reach those decisions;
  • Your inner-circle lacks diversity;
  • Or those who challenge your ideas are quickly labeled as problem makers and not team players.

The best decisions are those that have been debated, challenged, and discussed by a diverse group of trusted advisors before those decisions are reached.

The need for control.

Because you know what is best, you need to control everything. And to control everything, you micromanage every minute detail of your business.

Your ego is a problem if:

  • You constantly hover over your team, waiting for them to make a mistake;
  • You spend your time focused on day-to-day operations, down to the most insignificant aspects of your business, instead of looking outward for new business opportunities;
  • Nothing gets done when you’re away from the office, because no one is able to make decisions or proceed without your input;
  • Or you consistently give everyone detailed instructions on how to perform their job.

Bottom line, micromanagement doesn’t work. Back off your need for control, and give people the space and support to make decisions, to make mistakes, and to create their own success on their own accord.

Unable to ask for help.

Because you’re the leader and have a reputation to uphold, you never ask others for help.

Your ego is getting in the way if:

  • You’re worried about what others will think if they find out you need you help solving a problem;
  • You fear that your reputation will be hurt if you ask someone for help;
  • Or you believe that if you’ve gotten this far on your own, you don’t need the help of others to go further.

In business and in life, there are things you’ll never fully understand until you’ve experienced them yourself. With a mentor, or someone you can trust with your questions, you will be able to learn from the experiences of other people.

Always having to win.

Your ego always has to be right. Even when you’re wrong, and you know it, you’re still right.

Your ego is a problem when:

  • You always have to be right;
  • In an argument, you won’t stop fighting until you’ve gotten your way;
  • Or you get embarrassed, angry, and vengeful when you lose, even when the winning alternative was the right choice;

Confident and capable leaders know when to throw in the towel and accept the superior choice.

Losing touch with people.

When a person has achieved a moderate to high level of success in business, they begin to spend more time with upstream business leaders and professionals. Their ego can prevent them from swimming downstream to spend time with their juniors and customers.

You have an ego problem if:

  • You feel it’s beneath you―your time, position, salary, experience―to spend time with your customers or employees;
  • You have employees or business partners working in places you’ve never visited;
  • You always fly first class, but require your team to fly coach;
  • Or you can’t remember the last time you’ve taken a customer service call or responded to a customer email.

Great leaders spend time on the frontlines. The closer you are to your customers, employees, and vendors, the more grounded in reality you will be, and the better decisions you’ll make.

Will Adams

Will Adams is the GM for Small Business Services for GoSmallBiz.com. Will leads the company’s efforts in serving small business owners and their employees through consulting, software, education, employee training, and advocacy. Will is also the co-founder of a successful Software as a Service (SaaS) business that currently serves small museums and family offices throughout North America. In addition to his business interests, Will serves on the board of Atlanta Children’s Foundation, connecting individuals, organizations, and resources to meet the needs of children in foster care.