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Leadership Intelligence: How Ego and Authority Impact Your Potential

By |May 27, 2019

In the world of hostage negotiation, it’s critical to be cognizant of the action imperative—pressure from our superiors to resolve an issue and get results quickly.

But after the dust settles, we’ll be judged for the actions we made. Even if the ultimate outcome was desirable, others will assess our decisions and behavior to determine if we acted appropriately.

While this pressure to perform is always present, the most successful negotiators understand that being too focused on their goal or objective isn’t always the best approach. Being too aggressive, exerting too much authority, and letting your ego cloud your decision-making can lead to severe mistakes, some of them, unrecoverable.

In the high-stakes world of hostage negotiation, it could mean a loss of life.

In the business world, that could mean an employee’s morale and motivation might die.  

The most successful leaders—those who possess a high level of emotional intelligence—are able to keep their ego and authority in check and enjoy better outcomes because of it.

Here are four ways ego and authority can limit your potential—but only if you let them.

leadership intelligence

1. Ego and authority foster poor decision-making.

Ego is inextricably linked to identity. Identity protection causes many leaders to rush their decision-making and into action when being patient is a more appropriate response.

In hostage-taking events, hostages face the greatest risk of injury or death during two specific moments: the initial taking and a hostage rescue attempt. Hostage negotiation, of course, isn’t something that should be taken lightly. There’s pressure to perform, but if the ego gets in the way during these tense moments, the officer in charge (OIC) might actually consider doing something that’s reckless to satisfy their need to appear in charge and make themselves look like they are “controlling” the event.

This behavior is often found in the “blue flamer” … someone who is promoted rapidly through the ranks with little or no operational experience. The “blueflamer” is viewed by many as, at best, inexperienced. At worst, in competent. To help stave off those impressions, they are more prone to react (emotional) than respond (logical).

Bottom line? Too much ego can cause you to make reckless decisions and, ultimately, make you a less effective leader.

2. Ego and authority make it all about you.

Effective leaders understand that they need to be conscientious of how they convey information to their staffers. If you have to convey  news that they are not likely going to receive well, you need to first understand how that bad news might affect your team.

The best leaders understand that it’s not all about them. They possess a high level of emotional intelligence and specific interpersonal communication skills that help them navigate difficult conversations effectively on a daily basis.

Remember, people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers.

If you have too much ego and authority—a because-I-said-so management style, a condescending attitude, and a mean temper—some of your employees are already thinking about jumping ship. It’s only a matter of when.

3. Ego and authority disempower others.

Ever have a boss who was quick to take credit for team wins—and quick to put the blame on someone else when the company fell short? It’s not exactly inspiring.

Quality leadership starts with understanding when to include employees in the process and how to cheer them on—celebrating their wins not only when they achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish but when they go above and beyond.

Don’t take credit for victories. Take responsibility for defeats. When your employees are working hard on certain projects, encourage them and be their biggest cheerleader. It’s an easy way to get them on your side when the going gets tough in the future.

4. Ego and authority ruin tactical empathy.

We talk a lot about tactical empathy—using empathy as a strategic tool to uncover more information and get better outcomes. The reason we bring it up often is because we’ve seen it work in the most challenging of circumstances, time and time again.

Great leaders use tactical empathy all the time. They never talk like they have all the answers—and that’s because they don’t, and they know it. When leaders let ego and authority interfere with a situation and don’t deploy tactical empathy, bad things can happen.

Let’s say you tell your employees to do something, and they ask why. Your response is some form of: Because I told you so. That’s the quickest way to get pushback.

Flip it around. Using tactical empathy in this situation demonstrates that you are concerned with the impact your request is going to have them. To continue the above example, you might use tactical empathy to offer this response: You’re probably thinking that myself and the other executives can’t make up our minds—always coming up with new ideas that create more work for you. I know you’re all working hard and this new project will be demanding, but once we’ve completed it, our company will be in a much stronger position and your workload will be lighter.

Ego and authority are always going to be there. Each is not 100% evil. In the right circumstances, they are necessary.  You’re going to constantly have to work to keep them in check and only use them when the situation warrants it.

While your IQ stops developing once you reach the age of 12, you can continue developing your EQ well into your 80s. It takes constant focus—so you have to keep it top of mind. But it’s something that is definitely possible—and easily attainable if you are willing to work at it.  

Check out a new book from the Black Swan Group, Ego, Authority, Failure: Using Emotional Intelligence Like a Hostage Negotiator to Succeed as a Leader, to learn more.

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