Balancing a Healthy Ego and Humility

by | Mar 20, 2021 | Personal Growth

It’s good to have a healthy ego because that pushes you to succeed. But when you cross a line, and your views are not balanced, that’s when you get into trouble.

– Judy Smith, author, lawyer and producer

Self-awareness is critical to our personal and professional growth. Reflecting on how we see ourselves, and others see us, enables us to understand our impact on others.

Sometimes our eyes deceive us as to who we really are.

Self-importance is measured by where we put our primary focus – the needs of others or our own. If we have an inflated self-importance, we have an exaggerated sense of our value. When we place our attention on others and project humility, we demonstrate a low degree of self-importance.

The bookends are arrogance and humility. Most of us stand somewhere in between.

Our ego is part of our personality, and we all have one. When I coach clients, I frequently hear them say, “I don’t have an ego”. Managing, not denying, our ego enables us to impact our success and the success of those around us.

The English word for ego is ‘I’ and it represents our conscious mind. When you value your needs first, you are demonstrating an unhealthy ego. Here are a few signs:

  • You feel jealous when other people do well
  • You talk about yourself for 10 minutes before asking another how they are
  • You deflect criticism and blame others when things do not go your way

We dislike this behavior in others – our employees, supervisor, or family members. The irony is that we are also capable of having these thoughts. How do we do better?

Correcting our vision and nurturing a healthy ego.

The good news is that a healthy ego can be built, just like a healthy body. First, we need to accurately assess where we are:

Where are you in the Ego Grid?

My story of self-deception was revealed through a conversation about someone else. I was working with an organization evaluating their leadership team, and we were discussing a high performing leader’s style. The typical terms were used – accountable, visionary and confidence. Near the end of the evaluation, a traditionally silent participant described this leader as “self-absorbed”. She mentioned that the leader was exclusively focused on his career and department, at the expense of others. Soon similar comments came from others, and a new reality became apparent.

The lessons I learned were that managing self-importance is critical to leadership success, sometimes the quiet voice is what we need to hear, and I needed to look at my style. I had recently completed a 360-leadership assessment, and sure enough there were comments related to my self-orientation. I had breezed through my feedback, confident that I was a successful leader, while ignoring the voices I needed to hear. I saw what I wanted to see. The good news is that I asked for more feedback, realized I was not a complete egomaniac, and began a new journey toward managing myself.

I corrected my vision.

Three keys to maintaining a healthy ego:

Quiet Voices
Find individuals who excel at identifying what you need to hear about your self-importance. Get specific feedback on your words and actions.

Listen More/Talk Less
Focus on the needs of who you are communicating with, not preparing your response to their thoughts while they are talking. Extending your attention span leads to a higher listening v. talking ratio – a great leadership quality.

Go Second
Let others go first. Our impulse is to take charge and have the answers. Great questions, not answers, enable effective leaders to lead. Rather than advocating your ideas first, ask others “what do you think?” This fair process will earn respect and support for what happens next.

Most of us do not wake up every day, look in the mirror and say – today it is all about me. Self-importance is part of who we are, and when properly channeled, it is a positive leadership driver. Leaders with healthy egos can thrive by coaching, developing and building others and watching them grow. They put down the mirror and keep their eyes on who matters most – they correct their vision.

All My Best,