A blog by Luke Thomas, Performance Coach & Director of Spring


I’ve always loved this old advert…. A genius combination of image and strapline that says so much.  It speaks of a high performing car, so self-assured and confident that it doesn’t need or want to be proving a point with every boy-racer at the lights.  Brilliant.

Then it got me thinking about a trend across various teams seen in a real mix of industries.  So often Ego can become an overdone strength – not a productive factor.

Ego can be a hidden assassin!

We’ve all got a different mix of motivations in life with one of my favourite quick reference points being Herzberg – click here  Being able to recognise them, often by thin-slicing, can certainly help a team’s self-awareness.

Even with a clearly agreed team strategy, goals and tactics though; plus upfront conversations/contracting around individuals’ purpose and motivations… unrest can lurk unless Ego is dealt with.

The funny thing is that I’d always considered Ego quite easy to spot.  Surely it’s an obvious factor to notice?  Well not necessarily, as it can be confused with confidence, healthy conflict, and various other behaviours that are masking particular values or beliefs.  So be careful!

Some of the symptoms and damage done by overdone Ego

  • An overt (but generally covert) opinion that “I’ve got nothing to prove – I’ve arrived, got the T-shirt, been there and done this before.”  The trouble with this, is that the hunger to succeed and support others to succeed, is then compromised.
  • Initiative slows up and tenacity gently evaporates – because “I can do this standing on my head!”
  • A lack of asking for help both inside or outside the team.  This closed-mindedness starts to stunt the use of specialist expertise.  Decisions start to be made upon personal assumptions without a desire for further analysis or planning.
  • Overdone self belief that means decisions aren’t easily challenged and an “I’ve done this before so this is how you do it” attitude doesn’t explore fresh innovations or better quality decisions
  • A lack of self-awareness and/or desire to learn new things or accept others’ ideas.  The trouble with being oblivious to the mindsets running in their head or the behaviours they are demonstrating, is that when they are confronted about it, it’s a shock!  So you’re then into fight, flight, sulk or something else colourful
  • Blaming others and not accepting accountability unless to take some praise!
  • Writing blogs!! ;-)

A different take on the presence of Ego can be read here by Rachel Elnaugh in the context of start-up businesses.

So what can you do about it?

1) Trust your instincts early on – if you’re noticing the danger signs – trust them

2) Get some casual external perspective – you might be too close to the action for an objective view.  Anyone from friends and family through to colleagues, HR or a mentor could do the trick.  The least likely person can often shine a fresh light onto a situation.

3) Let the actions & outputs of the individual speak for themselves – they are clear providers of measurable objective feedback and help you recognise you’re not going mad

4) Deal with issues FAST – be open & honest early on.  But note points 5-7 first.

5) Consider redefinition of roles – just because you started with X number of team-members or Y types of role doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.  Maybe the team itself will need reshaping – it won’t always be possible to mend.

6) Check out Patrick Lencioni’s book “The 5 dysfunctions of a team” to help structure and make sense of the situation you find yourself in before taking action.  He talks real sense with: #1 The Absence of Trust.  #2 Fear of Conflict.  #3 Lack of Commitment.  #4 Avoidance of Accountability.  #5 Inattention to results.  Ego is a real danger on every single one of those levels.  The common sense principles he runs through can help, with or without using an external facilitator.

7) Deal with it personally rather than quietly blame the issue on someone else, as that just festers – this article by Jeff Haden is a great wake-up call… 9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People 

If you fancy a chat to compare notes anytime give me a shout – I’d love to hear what you’ve learnt about Ego in teams.  Thanks, Luke  info@springccr.co.uk