Architect David Mizan Hashim splices this much-maligned trait and reassures doubters that it is benignly beneficial as practised by the leadership of great companies
Ego – in the realm of leadership this word conjures images of selfish, arrogant self-promoting tyrants spouting edicts and pronouncements that enhance their image as the sole foundation underpinning the success of their organizations.
The caricature of the “egoistic leader” is the celebrity master-boss who insists on omnipresence and takes credit for everything positive that occurs in the company.
But this is a complete mischaracterisation of the word ego.
If ego is correctly understood to mean an individual’s sense of self-esteem, self-respect and self-confidence, then the most accurate manifestation of these characteristics is the quiet certainty and cool determination of those that lead from the uncelebrated shadows and are rooted in the power of their deeper conviction.
Its exact opposite is the insecure braggart who needs continuous reassurance of self-worth and shamelessly craves the fickle validation of his peers and society at large. As such, leaders with the greatest egos are those who don’t require the endorsement or even acknowledgement of society. The general public may not even be aware of their existence.
In this context, the corporate world desperately needs more leaders with strong egos!
Business leaders with healthy egos need not focus on building their personas through wealth, fame and power.
They are highly ambitious in other ways such as improving their abilities, gaining knowledge and sharpening their leadership skills.
They can therefore focus on that for which they have been entrusted; building the companies and improving the lives of all its stakeholders!
Where a dichotomy might arise between the best interests of the company versus the self, truly egoistic leaders will favor the needs of the larger picture and the interests of those personnel they lead.
Without a fragile self-image to protect, egoistic leaders can focus their energies on empowering and promoting talented individuals who will eventually succeed them.
This is not to say that immodest self-promoting leaders with weak egos are not able to build and lead successful companies. They do.
However, there are several reasons why these companies will face challenges with the eventual departure of such leaders.
One is that by reason of their insecurity in promoting talented peers during their tenure, there is no one suitable to lead when they are gone.
Another is that the impending departure of a highly charismatic “celebrity” leader will instil uncertainty among the stakeholders of the company (its employees, clients/customers, associates) because it is assumed, not without some truth, that his/her force of personality was the reason for the company’s success.
And if fame and personal wealth-accumulation was an obsession of the departing leader, he or she will leave behind a toxic culture of self-interest above common good in the unfortunate company.
If a great company is defined as one that continues to outperform its competition over many decades and over a succession of leaders, then leaders of truly great companies must have supreme egos which affords them the humility and self-assuredness to put the long-term needs of their companies above their own.
The history of great companies, thus defined, provides insights into the many great leaders who have founded and led them, building during their tenure the lasting processes, codes of conduct, corporate culture and vision while mentoring and empowering the emerging leaders who will take over when they depart.
David Mizan Hashim is the President and founding Director of the VERITAS Design Group