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Ego vs. EQ, Jen Shirkani demonstrates that leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ) display situational

awareness and emotional connectedness, which are two vital skills for building employee engagement. Despite the importance of EQ, many executives neglect to develop it. Shirkani explores the various Ego Traps that trip up executives and shows leaders how to recognize and move past them.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to a person’s self-awareness, empathy, social skills, motivation, and self-regulation. Essentially, people demonstrate their emotional intelligence by showing concern for others as well as an awareness of their own actions. While ego forces individuals to make decisions based on self-interest, EQ allows people to make decisions that are best for everyone. A careful balance of ego and EQ is vital for a leader’s success.

When climbing to the top of the corporate ladder, individuals must rely heavily on self-confidence, assuredness, conviction, and clear decision making-all qualities of the ego. By the time they reach the top, most leaders have forgotten all about the merit of emotional intelligence. To make matters worse, the higher a person’s rank, the less likely he or she is to receive honest feedback. This exposes leaders to one or more of the eight Ego Traps:

  1. Ignoring unfavorable feedback.

  2. Believing technical skills trump leadership skills.

  3. Creating a support system of exact replicas.

  4. Not letting go of control.

  5. Being blind to the downstream impact of decisions.

  6. Underestimating how frequently executive behavior is observed.

  7. Losing touch with frontline experience.

  8. Reverting back to old behaviors.

Executives often believe they are performing well in their roles. However, when pressed, executives typically do not have any concrete evidence of their supposed high performance. Executives rarely mandate performance evaluations for themselves, even though they are certainly in the habit of grading the performance of those below them. Beyond making it impossible to have a true understanding of their own performance, they also send the message that they are above feedback and reviews. Ego Trap 1 occurs when a leader does not formally invite feedback from the team or ignores feedback when it is provided.

The first situation, where a leader does not ask for feedback, could stem from an assumption that the team is close enough that if an individual wanted to approach the leader with feedback he or she could. While this assumption is innocent enough, it is not always true. Shirkani advises leaders to take a look at the kind of feedback they are receiving from their teams. The ideal type of feedback relates to leaders’ effectiveness at motivating and engaging employees. If the team only talks about satisfaction with the direction of the company, they are probably not comfortable providing honest feedback to the executive. Alternatively, the problem of a “halo effect” can occur in which the team trusts everything the executive does and therefore will not disagree with any decision. Lack of honest feedback will not help leaders grow.

The second scenario occurs when executives refuse to ask for feedback. Of the two, this scenario can be the most detrimental to a leader’s career. Feedback provides the key indicators that will sharpen business results. Without it, leaders will fail to motivate and support their teams properly, which can ruin a business.

Three steps can help leaders escape Ego Trap 1:

  1. Leaders should implement a way for their teams to provide honest feedback in a formal way. Leaders must learn to recognize the way their followers perceive their actions and adjust accordingly.

  2. Leaders should recognize the informal feed back they receive on a daily basis (employee conversations, body language, etc.). This informal feedback will provide clues as to how they are performing on a daily basis.

  3. Leaders should respond to these perceptions in an emotionally intelligent way that is not driven by ego.

The second Ego Trap is triggered when any leader overvalues his or her technical skills, industry knowledge, or field of expertise at the expense of other leadership attributes, such as flexibility, social awareness, or empathy. Most leaders come to this Ego Trap innocently. Their technical skills earned them promotions and professional accolades throughout their careers, but when a person is promoted into an executive position, his or her new role comes with the responsibility of leading a team. A deep understanding of leadership skills is not traditionally taught in business school, and many new executives drown in their ignorance.

If leaders feel they are stuck in this trap, Shirkani advises them to move away from the ego, which says the leader knows best, and toward an EQ point of view that takes into account ideas offered by employees. By making this switch, leaders show their teams that they are valued.

The best way to move from ego to EQ is for an executive to first recognize he or she is feeling an impulse to react as a technical expert instead of a team leader. Understanding when these feelings arise will better prepare leaders to take a step back and act with concern for their teams’ growth. Leaders must also possess empathy. They should read the cues from their employees to understand what they may need in any given situation. Leaders must determine what their teams can accomplish without supervision and what value the leaders can add to their teams. Finally, leaders must respond appropriately. The goal is to take internal and external information and use it to give an emotionally intelligent response.

Ego Trap 3 is perhaps the trap that goes most unnoticed. It happens at all levels, but it is the most dangerous at the executive level. Ego Trap 3 occurs when any leader surrounds himself or herself with people they “click with” rather than with individuals best able to do the job. While on the outside this does not seem like a problem (it is important to get along with colleagues), a closer look reveals that these “yes men” are the exact people who are least likely to challenge the decisions of the leader or recognize the blind spots he or she may have. Symptoms such as stagnation, disengagement, monotony, and rigidity will appear within the team and affect the company’s growth.

Sometimes lack of diversity comes from a legitimate shortage of talent, but most often it comes from confirmation bias. People who share character qualities are more likely to get along with one another and view one another favorably regardless of qualifications. Despite it being human nature, it is still detrimental to hire or promote simply due to this kind of bias. Some signs that a leader is falling into Ego Trap 3 include:

* Everyone in the leader’s inner circle shares the same work and communication styles.

* Decisions among the executive team are made quickly and easily with minimal challenges.

* The executive team lacks any diversity.

* Challengers in the company are often ostracized and labeled as naysayers.

* The company lacks a formal, structured interviewing and selection process. Managers can hire on “gut feelings” with little or no evidence of competency on the part of the applicant.

The best way to climb out of Ego Trap 3 is to first recognize the biases present during the hiring and promotion processes. Next, leaders must work to view differing opinions as important instead of combative. When leaders teach themselves how to value those employees who think differently than they do, their teams will be much more engaged and successful.

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