Integrity Matters
October 31, 2007

Watch out for the boss with the big ego

Question: (E-316)
When does the dynamic ego of the leader become destructive?  Asked differently, can a boss be too charismatic?


Yes! One of my mentors said that a man’s ego is his most expensive attribute.  He was careful not to say the same about women.  Regardless and no matter who you are, male or female, over-the-top self-centeredness is or will be very costly – on individuals, teams and the bottom line.

Dominating personalities, demanding lock-step loyalty, create fear, uncertainty and doubt, discouraging independence, while destroying initiative.  Phrases like “my way or the highway” are easily wrapped into their operating principles, confirming the deep-seated insecurity of these electric personalities. Their dynamic approach causes rapid change – which can be simultaneously both constructive and destructive. 

So, how is one to identify these overly-charismatic before they harm you?

Control-freaks, work-a-holics, perfectionists and over-achievers – those who attract and motivate others – even for positive reasons – risk long-term failure, damaging innocent by-standers and organizations, along the way.  They create, all too often, “burn-out” for themselves and those who support them.  Their vibrant personalities generate activity – much like a whirling dervish – exhausting all but the strongest-of-the-strong.

To avoid charismatic chaos – whether you are hiring a manager or seeking to work with or for a dynamo, be on the look out for certain tell-tale signs of the “big” ego.  These dynamic-types will often -

  • Use “I” and not “we” in how they speak and write.  They are essentially – “I, me and my” people, because, in their minds, life is about them, not the team. 
  • Focus on “battle” language in describing conflict resolution, in contrast to seeking clarity and building consensus.  Life is about win-lose versus win-win.
  • Describe past accomplishments in terms of their impact and not the efforts and insights of those with whom they worked.  They prefer being in the limelight; seldom sharing it – unless it relates to blame.
  • Seek “yes” people - regardless of what they say about wanting others to be direct - and confirm same by their “negative-speak” regarding suppliers, competitors and customers. If, in the interview, they speak more than 40% of the time, are routinely sarcastic or negative about others, then they are very unlikely to be superior listeners or excellent leaders.

When you perceive that the person you are interviewing is self-centered, strongly consider ending the conversation.  Look elsewhere – if possible.  You will be better off working with those who are “wired” in more positive “team-centered” ways.

Effective “integrity-centered” leaders recognize and reward the contributions of others with gracious encouragement.  Not only do they praise publicly and criticize privately; but also they immediately own organizational failures personally and give credit and praise to others for successes.

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