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How Does Ego Cause Leaders To Self-Destruct?

If you look at leaders in real life, you'll discover that some people in leadership roles maintain their effectiveness over time, but that others go from being effective to becoming ineffective, sometimes becoming destructive forces in their organizations. How can this be?

One common cause of this kind of negative shift involves the ego (or sense of self-importance) that can occur when someone is in a leadership position and loses perspective about his or her role in the organization.

It's not uncommon for someone who has power and authority to come to believe that he or she is far more important, knowledgeable and able then is really the case. In common language, we can call this "believing the press clippings".

It's not surprising. A successful leader tends to garner large amounts of praise and recognition for successes both from those outside an organization, but also from followers within the organization. This is particularly problematic in situations where the leader sets up an internal organizational culture that supports communicating about positive things, and sweeping bad news under the rug. In these situations the leader does not receive the kinds of feedback about what he or she needs to do differently, and comes to believe in his or her infallibility.

Apart from inadequate feedback from followers, another cause of ego sabotage comes from what we call misattribution of success. It is common for human beings to use the halo effect, and attribute success to leaders, when in fact, that success is not do to the specific leader, but to a large variety of other factors. Misattribution attributes cause and effect to the wrong sources.

It is true that some leaders succeed (at least for a while) due to being in the right place at the right time with the right skills. However, as situations change, leaders who do not change along with the situations (due to ego) will tend to self-destruct. Is it surprising that leaders who are elevated to legendary status start to believe in their own perfection? As evidence for the effects of misattribution, it's interesting to look at leaders who are effective in one organization, but fail badly when they move to another.

Finally, and perhaps most important, leaders who allow their egos to run rampant will tend to stop doing what made them successful in the first place. For example, a leader may succeed because he or she created good relationships with those around him or her, listening, responding, and so on. With success (and the belief that it's the leader that is creating great success), some leaders will stop listening, and become out of touch.

When Leaders Go From Effective To Ineffective #1

 

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