Egos in the Workplace

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Performance Management

For Freud, the ego is the division of the psyche that helps us organize our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us. For most of us today, the word ego tends to connote an “exaggerated sense of self-importance” and “an inflated feeling of pride and superiority to others”.

In a work setting, ego can be a very positive thing. That is, if we’re talking about functional egos. A person with a functional ego has sense of personal worth and self-respect. They are assertive, believe in themselves, and take pride in what they do. Someone with a dysfunctional ego still has all those great qualities, but taken to an unpleasant extreme.

Here are some of the prominent dysfunctional ego types that could be lurking in your workplace:

The Stallion

Traits: Assertive, Proud, Well-Spoken, Poor Listener, Great Business Relationships, Poor Personal Relationships

Stallions are compelled to impress others with their talents – their status, achievements, “great” ideas – but tend to be fairly indifferent when they aren’t the ones getting the attention. Though more annoying than harmful, when working in a team with a Stallion, their ‘Me, Wonderful Me’ attitude not only gets on everybody’s nerves, it can hinder the group’s cohesion and process.

If this is you: Hold Your Horses! Try and make a mental note of how many times you say ‘I’ when beginning a sentence, how many times you ask people for their thoughts and opinions, how much you try and control the group, or push your own ideas. When your ego becomes egocentric, you get easily bored and impatient with others, discrediting them before even giving them a chance.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot you can learn from people. Not convinced? Make it a goal of yours to try and find out what it is these ‘uninteresting’ people have to offer – this could be a new skill, or perhaps even a simple lesson in human dynamics.

How to handle The Stallion: Pull the reigns. Stallions can become bullies and resort to aggressive tactics to get their way. Don’t be shy to put a Stallion in his place when things get out of hand. I’ve often noticed when working with groups, that people frequently succumb to the person who’s loudest. But being vociferous doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a good leader or has the best idea.

The Know-It-All, Did-It-All & Doing It My Way

Traits: Knows-It-All, Did-It-All, Does It Their Way

Unless your name is Frank Sinatra, maybe you shouldn’t always be doing it your way. As the name suggests, The Know-It-All ego has such an unhealthy sense of pride that they feel they are “right” about everything, even when there is proof to the contrary.

If this is you: Use your skills proactively. Teach others what you know. Make yourself available for questions. If you have a strategy for improving a process, suggest assembling a group and leading a project. If you feel too good for the job, maybe you are. You may be overqualified and would ultimately be happier doing something more challenging.

How to handle the Know-It-All: If you are working directly with a Know-It-All, then Discover-A-Lot. This is an opportunity to learn valuable skills from a pro. If that Know-It-All is more talk than insight, it’s best not to get emotionally invested in arguments or debates that are completely one-sided. You may just have to wear your headphones more often.

The Credit Bandit

Traits: Manipulative, Idea Stealer, Takes Credit for Other People’s Work

The Credit Bandit takes credit from others because they think they can get away with it. As leadership development and communications-consulting expert Charmaine McClarie of The McClarie Group states, “If one feels powerless to affect positive and necessary change, then stealing what one can’t create oneself begins to look like a plausible solution”.

If this is you: Share the spotlight! You’re not always going to be the one with the best ideas but that certainly doesn’t give you the right to take credit for other people’s. Perhaps your position in the company makes you feel you must be “The Source” from which all initiatives stem from, but consider that great leadership also means bringing out all your team member’s strengths and allowing them to shine once in a while. This will reflect well on you too.

How to handle The Credit Bandit: If the Credit Bandit also happens to be your boss, there’s unfortunately not much you can do about this in the short term. However, it is important to stand your ground. Convey that you expect a reward for your help, for instance, getting a mention for your efforts in your upcoming performance review. It’s a good idea to make other people aware of your contributions (particularly those in senior positions), as well as to keep written records of your ideas. Send emails around noting progress. Remember, there is no finite number of good ideas, you can be the bigger person and move on.

Mr(s) Great Expectations

Traits: Controlling, Unreasonable Expectations, Aggressive When Expectations Are Not Met

Ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday…

Mr(s) Great Expectations has a strong need for control and tends to micromanage employees. Believing they are always doing what’s best for the company, Mr(s) Great Expectations sets both outlandish and futile objectives for others, then gets frustrated when they aren’t achieved.

If this is you: You can’t force people to be like you. Running a tight ship is not about breathing down people’s necks and making them second-guess themselves. It’s about empowering your employees and training them to be self-sufficient. What you can do, is set SMART goals and plan out courses of action to reach those goals. Your purpose is to lead by example, not to over-manage.

How to handle Mr(s) Great Expectations: The problem with Mr(s) Great Expectations, is they are most often our bosses. We find ourselves stuck in a predicament where we know what they’re asking is impossible or unnecessary, but failure to comply could lead to termination from the company.

A reasonable and proactive solution is to have an honest and sincere conversation with your boss. You could even propose some strategies you think would work to cut time and increase efficiency. Bosses just love those kinds of solutions.

A Diet For a Healthy Ego

If your ego could use some deflating, your first step is to let go of your need to win and be right all the time. You may like competing, but when it’s against your own workmates, it can be very damaging to the office morale.

If you work with an inflated ego, and it’s causing problems, then communicate your concerns directly with the person, even if it feels a little embarrassing at first. Maybe no one has ever called them out on their behavior and they don’t actually realize they’re doing it.

Have you ever dealt with a coworker with an oversized ego? Share your story with us!

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