President Lyndon Johnson was famous for his well-developed ego. There’s an old story that one day he was stopped by a Texas patrolman for speeding. When the patrolman came closer to Johnson’s car and saw who was driving, he reportedly exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”
Looking straight at the patrolman, Johnson replied, “And don’t you forget it!”
Unfortunately, many leaders get chapped lips from kissing the mirror too often.
I have a different way of talking about ego in my speeches. If you think you’re indispensable, I tell people, stick your finger in a bowl of water and watch the hole it leaves when you pull it out.
I’m not saying all ego is bad. It isn’t. Everyone should have enough confidence/ego to stand on their own. It’s what defines you and gives you spark, creativity and individuality. There’s nothing wrong with having drive, passion and excitement. Those are all good. But don’t confuse ego with arrogance. Where people get into trouble with ego is when it is misused.
I like to share this reality check with my audiences: When you put yourself on a pedestal and let your ego get the best of you, just remember the size of your funeral will depend largely on the weather.
Former pro wrestler turned movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, said: “Check your ego at the door. The ego can be the great success inhibitor. It can kill opportunities, and it can kill success.”
Think about those words. Do any of us have too many opportunities or too much success? No. Do any of us have too much ego? Yes.
There are some telltale signs your ego is out of control. For example, do you complain frequently? Do you need to find fault with things both large and small just to get your fingerprints on a project? That might be a sign you need to take a step back.
If being judgmental is your hallmark, ask yourself why your ideas are superior to everyone else’s. I’m not referring to the everyday assessments managers and committees need to perform. But when snarky is the norm, muzzle yourself. Arguing and fighting with others doesn’t usually provide the desired results. If you have productive suggestions, make them respectfully.
Make every effort not to be a know-it-all. You can know a lot, or be at expert level, or maybe you even “wrote the book” on a topic. But it’s usually more effective to let someone else brag you up. You achieve better credibility when others toot your horn.
When the shoe is on the other foot, how does your ego show itself? Being defensive when you are criticized is unprofessional and immature. Instead of blaming others, learn to listen to them and see how much they have to contribute. Give your co-workers or subordinates a chance to shine to prove your ego is not in the way of success.
If you plan to keep working with the same people, you really have to work at working with them. I can tell you from my own experience, sooner or later you will need their help. If you have burned your bridges, you will have a tough time getting assistance when you need it.
Once you figure out you may have been wrong or overstepped a boundary, be willing to apologize. A little humility is always welcome, as long as it’s sincere. Admit your mistakes and offer whatever help or support you can.
If you want to overcome your ego, you need to learn to let go.
• Let go of being offended at every little thing.
• Let go of the need to win and be right all the time.
• Let go of the need to be superior.
• Let go of identifying yourself by your achievements and reputation.
There are also a few things to keep.
• Keep your temper in check.
• Keep your sense of humor.
• Keep your tone respectful.
• Keep your mind and ears open.
A man once told Buddha, “I want happiness.”
Buddha replied: “First remove ‘I’; that’s ego. Then remove ‘want’; that’s desire. And now all you’re left with is happiness.”
Mackay’s Moral: Get over yourself before you trip over yourself.
Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com.