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When and When Not To Ego

When and when not to ego

I was about to step on the court and play against the best point guard in the conference. He was bigger, stronger, faster and more talented than me, but I wanted to give everyone watching on the sidelines a surprise that day. I wanted them to see a short Pakistani-American kid ball out on the League MVP. I wanted to prove that heart goes farther than talent, and that’s exactly what I did. That’s the positive EGO at work.

Let me make something very clear…EGO is both BAD and GOOD.

We always hear about the bad, because quite frankly we have so many examples of it around these days. From Wall Street bankers, to overpaid athletes, to the horrible ego-driven bosses of the world that many of us are stuck dealing with day in and day out, EGO has gotten a bad rap. However, it’s not all bad. It can be a very powerful positive force of Good if used in the right way and in the right context. So without further ado…

Let me make something very clear…EGO is both BAD and GOOD.

When to EGO

  1. In Competition

The example that I wrote above is a prime example of how EGO helps in competition. For any of you all who are current or former athletes or have competed in any type of competition, you know that having a healthy EGO is something that can give you an edge over the competition. Self-belief and supreme confidence oftentimes becomes a competitive advantage when channeled properly. Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady and the list of athletes who have used their healthy egos to achieve great success in competition goes on and on.

  1. When presented with Challenges

“When you go to the mountains, you see them and you admire them. In a sense, they give you a challenge, and you try to express that challenge by climbing them.” Edmund Hillary

On May 29th, 1953 Edmund Hillary did the unimaginable. Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. This was a feat that was considered impossible by most of the world at that time, but as you can see from the quote above, Hillary saw it as a challenge. It was precisely that sense of great challenge that pushed and drove him to overcome it.

EGO done right, can be used to help overcome the greatest challenges that we face in life.

  1. When holding ourselves to a higher standard

Mrs. White pulled me aside, looked at my project then looked at me and said, “I’m disappointed. I know you can do better than this.” Those words stung much more than an F at the top of a paper. They hurt because they challenged my own sense of ego and pride. She was right. I could do better and I should have. I should hold myself to a higher standard and do things in an excellent manner because that’s just WHO I AM.

Mrs. White taught me a life changing lesson that day. From that point on I took pride in my work and whenever I did something that wasn’t up to MY OWN high standard, my EGO would kick in and that thing, whether it was a term paper or project, would become unacceptable to me.

Our EGO’s can become a powerful force of good in our lives, when it’s used to hold ourselves up to a higher standard of excellence in everything we do.

  1. To Inspire confidence in others

Paul’s team just had one of their worst quarters in the history of the company. Sales were at an all-time low and the morale of the sales team hit rock bottom. It didn’t take a genius to know that the quarterly sales team meeting was going to be a rough one.

Paul walked in, started the meeting and immediately the excuses and blame came pouring out…”it’s the market”, “everyone’s hurting right now”, “the whole industry lost money”, “it’s the new president’s fault” etc.

Paul just couldn’t take it anymore and he did what any great leader would do in this situation; he turned it into a positive.

“Okay guys, I know that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market right now. I know that the competition is getting more and more stiff every day and I know that we’re in a time of change in our industry. I’m aware of all of those things, and you know what I’m also aware of? I’m aware of the ridiculous amount of talent and heart that we have in this room. I know for a fact that WE are better than our competitors. I know that WE can overcome any challenges and setbacks that we face. I know that each and every single one of us in this room are great at what we do and I know that WE are going to go from having the worst quarter in our history to one of the best. I know that for a fact because I know who WE are. And WE are so much more than what our numbers show this past quarter. So, let’s cut the bullshit and let’s do what WE do and turn this thing around beginning right now!”

Paul knew how to tap into the pride and ego of his team members and use it to improve their collective results.


Our EGO’s can become a powerful force of good in our lives, when it’s used to hold ourselves up to a higher standard of excellence in everything we do.

When NOT to EGO

I’ve just given you some clear examples of when EGO can be used in an incredibly positive manner to help us get better results in life. However, more often than not, our egos are used in a bad way that hurts us. So, let’s look at some of the times when having an EGO should be avoided. Keep one thing in mind as you read. What I’m about to share are general principles and DO NOT apply in every situation and circumstance.

  1. When holding a position of leadership

I remember watching Barack Obama’s inauguration. I am not a Democrat but I was so proud of our country. I was so happy to be a citizen of a country in which a person who was from a minority community could become its leader. However, as a leadership coach and trainer, I knew that the inauguration would be the easiest day of his term as president. Leadership in any context is a responsibility. It is difficult and challenging. It requires one to constantly think about the well-being of the people that he or she is leading, which can become extremely taxing on a leader.

Do me a favor, go and google US president photos before and after they became president. What you will see will probably shock you. Almost all of them look like thy ages 20 – 30 years within only the 4 to 8 years that they served. Why is that? It’s the result of the burden and responsibility associated with being the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

So, what’s my point? Why I’m even mentioning any of this is to help you understand that when you have a leadership role in any context, you cannot bring a big ego to the job because it will cause you to forget the most important thing, which is the betterment of the people that you’re leading.

If you look at some of history’s worst leaders, they were extremely egotistical and cared more about themselves and their inner circle then the masses of people who they were supposed to care for. Stalin, Hitler, Mao are all names that bring about almost universal dismay for believing themselves to be almost God-like. Their egos led to developing a clouded and skewed version of the world in which they were at the center.

Having a big EGO while in a position of leadership can lead to some of the following negative consequences:

  • Believing that your shit doesn’t stink

What I mean by that is that you start to believe your own hype and lose the humility that probably got you to the leadership position in the first place.

  • Don’t listen to anyone else

This is a very common occurrence for egocentric leaders. They become so convinced of their own greatness that they stop listening to the advice and counsel of the people around them or anyone for that matter.

  • Make bad decisions

Oftentimes, having a big EGO leads you to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the people or organization that you’re leading. You start to have a “what’s in it for me” mentality and that leads you to benefit personally from all the decisions that you make. From my experience, this type of mindset amongst the so-called ‘leaders’ in many developing countries is what keeps them limited and prevents them from fulfilling their potential as a nation. At least that is certainly the case in Colombia, the country in which I currently reside.  

  • Mistreat the people that you’re supposed to be helping

This is a common occurrence when the EGO of the leader sky rockets. They become the center of their universe and as others become less and less important to them, they start to make decisions without considering the needs of the people that they are supposed to be serving.


  1. When dealing with others (as a general principle)

Yes, this is one of the broadest statements you’ve ever read before and it’s meant to be. Let me explain what I mean by that.

A wise Arab philosopher once said that people should seek to be like a light rain. Think about that for a second…what does a light rain do? It brings refreshment and life to a place and that’s how we should always be in dealing with others. Every person we come into contact with and in every room that we enter, our goal should be to light that place up with our positive energy and excellent character.

Based on that philosophy, I believe that when dealing with other people, whether it be with our families, friends, co-workers, or even strangers we should try and keep our egos in check. We shouldn’t deal with others from a place of ego thinking only of our needs and our desires.

Dealing with others from an ego can manifest itself in the form of Insecure and Controlling behavior. When we let our ego’s get the best of us, we try to control the actions of others rather than accepting others as they are. It’s quite fascinating that the most ‘egotistical’ people are also the most insecure. Due to their lack of internal security in who they are as people, they put on a supremely confident face to convince others of their greatness because internally they are not convinced themselves. This also leads to a strange kind of internal and external disconnect in which externally a person seems arrogant and egotistical but internally they lack self-confidence and are in constant need of the approval of others. Agent Orange in the White House is a great example of this.

The takeaway is that when dealing with others, let’s try our level best to keep our ego’s in check and focus on how we can add value to their lives and be like a light rain.