When you hear someone say, “That person’s got quite an ego,” it’s rarely meant as a form of flattery. In fact, it typically carries a lot of negative baggage. But without a “healthy ego,” a person can be pretty dysfunctional. Indecisive. Defensive. Insensitive. Accusatory. Insecure. Risk averse. You name it.
One way to think of ego in a positive light is to look at what it takes to maintain a healthy one. Using the word EGO as an acronym, here are three key requirements:
If you want to mess with people’s heads, be fuzzy about what you expect them to do. Then give them a rash of trouble when they fail to meet your expectations. That problem crops up quite a bit in the annual ritual of the performance review and appraisal process. What starts out at the beginning of the year looking like a clearly defined set of goals and objectives often becomes a sore point of contention. The employee and the supervisor discover they had different pictures in their respective heads of what successful completion looks like, and guess who usually wins the argument.
Even the best of employees can get bruised egos from that kind of experience. Both people bear responsibility for making the process work, but the supervisor has to take the lead in making sure they’re on the same page from the outset.
Remember the classic exchange between Alice and the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland? Alice is wandering around lost, and the cat asks her where she’s going. She replies that she really doesn’t know, and the cat says, well then, any road will take you there.
I don’t know if Alice was suffering from a shaky ego – after all, she was a fictional character in a far-flung fantasy. But if you’re a real live, flesh and blood human being, your ego is in jeopardy if you don’t have clear goals for yourself. When it comes to the workplace, employees and supervisors alike have to make sure that clear, meaningful goals are in place if they want to keep people feeling happy, health and whole.
In my new book, Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement, I talk about imagination and free will as the two essential qualities that differentiate human beings most from all other living creatures. When it comes to free will, our capacity to make choices – to do things that aren’t dictated by the program that controls other animals – is a forceful driver of people’s attitudes and behaviors.
Failing to appreciate that force leads to a basic misunderstanding about human nature in the workplace. The old bromide that people resist change is a classic example. Fact is, people change all the time. What they resist – and what they don’t like – is being forced to change without having a say in the matter. People hate not having the control that comes with choices and options. What’s more, they won’t trust anyone who takes that control away from them, and their performance on the job is usually pretty subpar when they don’t get it.
Bottom line, healthy EGOs are a big part of what makes the business world go ‘round. So take the time to make sure employees are clear on their E-xpectations, G-oals and O-ptions if you want to keep them tuned in, turned on and ready to go the extra mile.
# # #