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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bowie

Keys to the Boardroom: Let Go Your Ego

You might expect a CEO to have a massive ego. Many of them do. But the most successful CEOs do not derive their self-worth from their ideas and achievements. Success is measured by progress toward objectives; self-worth comes from the integrity of living day-to-day in harmony with their value systems. They cannot be threatened by opinions that contradict their own, nor wounded by criticism of their work methods or results. They are not afraid to be wrong, nor are they arrogant when they are right.

Most managers fail, not most managers, but many managers fail because of this ego problem, and it is a subtle but insidious sort of thing in that they get themselves into a job and at some point along the way, they can't separate who they are from what they are doing. Suddenly now they are making decisions based on how they'd like the headlines to read rather than the way it really ought to be so they lose their objectivity and pretty soon disaster follows. The really smart people who had no reason to fail but who did fail – inevitably in my opinion it came about because they couldn't quite pull that separation off. They couldn't keep that objectivity. They couldn’t draw themselves back and really think about what the right thing to do is here. Boy, I tell you, I've lived lots of examples, really dumb decisions – deals we could have made with other corporations, but the NIH <Not Invented Here> factor got in the way. And that's ego. It sometimes costs companies their success.

CEO of a Fortune 500 Computer & Electronics Company

Defensiveness is rationalization; it is the blind search for justification regardless of contravening facts. It is insistence on being right. It is fear of truth. And fear of truth will eventually lead to failure.

CEOs don’t insist that they are always right. But they do make decisions based on their best judgement, after considering all the facts and arguments. They know they must act, and they take the best action available to them. But if that action is later shown to be wrong, they are the first to admit it and try something else. They don’t care about being “right;” they care about achieving results, even when those results come from someone else’s idea.

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