There’s No “Me” in Leadership

I spoke recently with a colleague about the organizational damage done by CEOs whose egos outweigh their management and people skills. Rather than creating a legacy of their greatness, these executives often leave a toxic workplace in their wake.

“If a leader with a big ego and threatening manner takes over, employees become focused on satisfying the leader instead of focusing on the organization’s mission. … Big threatening egos produce apathy as they focus on the ‘me’ instead of ‘we.’  They refocus most people on protecting themselves from the wrath of egos. Hardly the path to success.”  Kate Nasser in a post about leadership.

Ultimately, as my colleague pointed out, “The organization’s culture should be bigger than any one person.” The good news is most organizations are resilient and can survive such executives.

But at what cost?

The fallout is low morale, high disengagement, and high turnover that result in a weakened internal brand struggling to retain or attract talent. With the right leader in place, however, the organization can recover.

It just takes a lot longer for employees who had to suffer through the former CEO’s reign of terror.


6 replies on “There’s No “Me” in Leadership”

Thank you, Penny. Working together for the collective good of customers, shareholders, employees, business partners, AND the community-at-large makes absolute sense. Unfortunately, it’s remains more of an ideal than standard practice; i.e., it’s still lip-service from those directors and executives who only care about what’s is in it for them.

I think the key word in your message Sybil is “threatening manner” in terms of how the employees perceive the boss. Societies (and organizations) that thrive are based on the goodwill of “we’re in this together”. Good leadership promotes “when we work together for the benefit of our customers as well as our organization, we will succeed”. Good leaders see beyond their own egos and just creating a bigger profit. They lead by example, not bravado, by caring about the welfare of their workers and customers…what is in everyone’s best interest. This then benefits the entire community. I don’t think this is altruistic. I think it’s pragmatic.

Thanks for your sharing your perspective, Andrea. I agree that leaders with a “healthy dose of confidence and assertiveness” driven to “fulfill the mission [and] provide a challenging … excellence inducing workplace” can be perceived as threatening to employees who like the status quo. These employees need to weigh their options to switch their attitude or employer. My concern is with executives who act as change-agents — not for the good of the organization, but for their own ego-building purposes. They may be bullies by nature and/or they lack the necessary communication and people-skills to truly lead an organization.

With all due respect, I disagree, and perhaps I am splitting hairs, but leaders by and large have significant egos driving them forward. And, in my experience leaders with a healthy dose of confidence and assertiveness — even an overdose — can be dynamic, progressive, and positive game changers. Their dedication and determination is often misinterpreted as aloof or “threatening.” It’s what feeds the ego that can be problematic. If it’s a desire to be the one and only, the central authority, or the bully, it’s a no go. But if the motivation is to fulfill the mission, provide a challenging, thought provoking, and excellence inducing workplace, then I say, bring it on! Staff intimidated by high expectations or powerful — powerful, not overbearing — egos in the lead should move out and move on.

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