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Posted: February 25, 2011

Business leaders, please check your ego at the door

Narcissism can be toxic

Derek Murphy

Everyone knows someone with a narcissistic personality. Often, it is someone of power that shows the extreme symptoms of narcissism. Even a few leaders in the ancient world believed they were gods. I hope those times are done.

A narcissist, by definition, is a personality trait of egotism, vanity or simple selfishness. They have grandiose visions about their own importance and believe they are special. In a sense, narcissism is arrogance on steroids.

Well, these are not the type of qualities one typically looks for in a business leader. Many even say narcissists helped spurred the economic downturn, but I'll let you be the judge of that.

To become a leader, one must display talent and confidence in their abilities and role. But once one reaches so much success, too much ego could become toxic.

An abundance of ego can get in the way of managing. For instance, if you must have the last word on every decision, it may affect employee morale. You are preventing your people from growing, and it may keep the company from growing as well.

To be fair, some say that narcissistic leaders do tend to see the big picture and have a strong vision. I think most of us would agree, however, that narcissists' strongest suit is not playing well with others.

A better way to approach leadership is to maintain a balance of self-confidence and humility.

While it has been said that life is a long lesson in humility, the sooner a leader comes to grips with their humility - the quicker they will become a better leader.

Keep in mind humility is not a weakness; it means that leaders fully align themselves with the organization's mission and vision. Leaders that display humility tend to have more influence, attract better talent, and earn more respect. It's not about the leader, but about the team.

And humble and authentic leaders do reach huge levels of success - just look at the careers of Xerox CEO Ursula Burns and General Mills CEO Ken Powell.

Burns was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying, "The real story is not Ursula Burns. I just happen to be the person standing up at this point representing Xerox."

So check the ego at the door, and you might just gain the respect of your employees.
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Derek Murphy is CEO of TBC, a global assessment company with over 4 decades of experience, specializing in 360s and survey customization. Our hosting platform, TruScore®, allows you to manage all of your talent management assessments in one central location. Request a demo to discover why some of the most recognized brands in the Fortune 1000 chose TBC.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Derek --- great article that I am sending to all of my clients and the alumni of our program. I believe that humility is the most important trait a business leader can have. Thank you for your succinct and well-written exposition of this cardinal virtue. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 25
Excellent article. Leaders must especially be able to admit mistakes. Every boss "tells" his employees to inform him/her when a mistake is made, but if they don't do it theirselves, then their employees won't do it. Lead by example is ALWAYS a good tenet. I always explain to a new employee that admitting a mistake stops the discussion and then it simply switches to how to correct it and/or prevent it next time. Denial simply leads to argument and bad feelings on both sides. By John Wray on 2011 02 25

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