Leadership Qualities

This Assumption About Leadership Could Stall Your Team's Momentum. Don't Let It.

An organization's employees need to keep their egos in check for the health of the business, and that includes those at the top.
This Assumption About Leadership Could Stall Your Team's Momentum. Don't Let It.
Image credit: Westend61 | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder and CEO, Varidesk
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Working hard is not the same as working smart. I learned that firsthand as the owner of a business early in my career. I considered myself a supremely talented jack-of- all-trades, equally adept at crafting budget spreadsheets, handling vendors and managing people. But, boy was I wrong. I wouldn't -- rather, couldn't -- delegate projects or trust others to perform tasks. I prevented my employees from actualizing their full potentials, and I just about burned myself out several times in the process.

I was on an ego trip to nowhere.

Those early failures came back to mind recently when I read that global consulting firm Potential Project had released the results of a survey of more than 30,000 leaders that found a serious disconnect between how leaders perceive their engagement with their employees and how those employees rate their superiors.

Related: 5 Ways to Deal With Your Ego

It's not surprising that egos can run rampant in the C-suite and that some leaders fall into the trap of assuming that because they head up the business, they dictate its forward momentum. Why? Their egos could be getting the best of them. What Potential Project learned from its assessment is clear: Companies that acknowledge the destructive elements of an inflated ego and work to adopt people-centric (versus egocentric) tactics help their workers find purpose and happiness.

As the CEO of my company, I recognize that I'm driving the train, so to speak. But I also understand that it's the combined efforts of a passionate, intelligent and humble group of people who move an organization forward, and I count myself lucky to have realized that early on. While I might be the "engineer," I know the train does not stop for me, that if something's holding me back, the business will continue on without me.

While that concept might frighten some leaders, it's just my cue to bring my best.

Leaving your ego in the dust

Each of us is blessed -- and cursed -- with an ego. Ego is a critical part of anyone's personality, but it can also coax him or her down the wrong path at times. In his book Ego Is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday argued that people without the ability to temper their egos tend to make disastrous decisions. An example? Think about holding tightly to a failing idea or a changing business model and what might happen as a result.

Leaders who impart this understanding to their teams have an advantage over their narcissistic counterparts. I've worked hard to drive innovation by sharing ideas, gathering feedback and pushing positive change. Through my efforts, I've created a system that can survive and thrive beyond me.

My approach to leadership focuses on aligning my company's core values to its day-to-day operation. As a result, this approach empowers individuals to enhance our products, helps us build a tremendous fan base and lets us focus on stellar branding.

Related: How Establishing Core Values Drives Success

I continue to hone that approach: I listen to feedback from my team and my customers. I learned from the best companies and business minds in the world. And it's all a process: Since I started in business, I've certainly had my share of crashes. I know what it's like to sweat to make payroll, and I'm humbler for it.

Operating at full steam ahead

While I know my company has been blessed with amazing growth, I know we have to always keep moving. If you're itching to work with a similar mentality, start with these strategies:

1. Stop celebrating every small win. Some corporate cultures encourage rewarding even the smallest successes. We don't. Sure, it's great that one salesperson achieved a goal, but we're not slowing down to pop champagne. We might acknowledge that accomplishment on an individual level, but we never stop rolling.

By keeping my own ego in check -- and requiring my team members to do the same -- we're able to accomplish 10 times more than our competition. Why? Everyone is focused on the company's collective journey. That's not to say the ride won't be bumpy for some. Waking up every day with the drive necessary to constantly push to grow more, learn more and do more isn't for everyone. And that's OK. Others will be in it for the long haul.

Unless you want to have a bunch of lone wolves who can't play well with others, try to keep everyone's egos in check by keeping celebrations to a minimum. Field research from Harvard Business School showed that implementation of an awards program at one industrial organization actually decreased productivity. Of course, you can reward people occasionally, but don't make it an everyday occurrence, or you may watch it eat away at your forward motion.

2. Get out of your team's way. Steve Jobs famously said he "hired smart people so they could tell us what to do," not the other way around. Similarly, American auto executive Lee Iacocca vowed to employ bright folks and then "get out of their way." Take a hint from these leaders, and trust in the intelligence of your team.

I encourage autonomous work for a few reasons. First and foremost, my team and I have fostered a culture of trust. Each employee knows he or she needs to consistently push toward innovation: Everyone plays a key role in an organization's success, after all.

But the sheer volume of tasks we're trying to accomplish in the marketplace makes it nigh impossible to have someone looking over each person's shoulder. Instead, we spend time rallying our team members around concepts and then let them bring their own ideas and solutions to the table. Instead of micromanaging your employees to the point that both you and they start to burn out, encourage your team members to take risks and solve problems on their own. You may be surprised by the results.

3. Accept that your destination won't stay the same. Forget about following a specific path to a specific end goal. As a company grows, it's only natural for objectives to shift, as well. As long as you're continuously clarifying your vision, your organization's destination will change. And that's a good thing.

Related: To Survive, Sometimes You Have to Let Go of Your Vision -- and Ego

In the beginning, my company was focused simply on selling as many of our products as possible. We knew that activity-promoting products like standing desks were trendy and that the idea was turning into a movement. But, since then, the company vision has shifted from that single focus to something much bigger.

Today, our mission has blossomed into helping companies interested in health and wellness embrace the notion of an active workspace. We want to help our clients figure out what it means to be flexible in the workplace and find solutions that work for them. There's no way we could have predicted this turn from the beginning.

As the engineer of my company's train, I know many important decisions are up to me. And I'm grateful for that: I can use my position to make a positive impact on the people around me, my community and my customers. But my organization's progress isn't up to me alone. It's up to every team member to work, learn and grow so the company can, too.

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