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4 egotistical behaviors that lead to poor leadership

Poor leadership is often the result of several factors including a lack of humility and blaming others for problems. LaRae Quy offers four strategies to ditch your ego and become a better leader.

9 min read


poor leadership

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Examples of poor leadership skills surround us. All too common, we see selfish, opinionated, greedy and deceitful people move into the upper echelons of leadership. Politics might be the first area that pops into the minds of many of us, but we can find the same harmful attitude in business, community affairs, health and education. 

Poor leadership mentality sounds like this: “I know I’m right, and as long as I feel I have the moral high road, I have no hesitation in shoving my opinions (and behavior) down the throat of others.”

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Besides a lack of empathy and an exaggerated sense of importance, egotistical people don’t know how to get out of their own way because they’ve never thought about anyone but themselves and their enlightened attitude about how the world works. Yep, they are a sharp pain; and they take care to pass it along to others. 

The leadership skills necessary for success have changed as the world becomes more connected, transparent and diverse. A Deloitte report examined the needs of the future workplace and found that company leaders feel more stress because they are under increased scrutiny from both the public and their stakeholders. This attitude spells disaster for the egotist because they believe they’re somehow better and more important than anyone else. But, unlike narcissists, they don’t have a constant need for admiration; after all, they already know they’re superior!

We all know egotistical leaders who have been very successful, but the real question is this: Can their success be sustained with the changes in today’s work environment?

Here are 4 things successful leaders do to avoid egotistical behavior:

1. Refuse to consider themselves better than others

As a senior FBI agent, I had been around the block a few times and learned much from my failures and successes. I had always conducted a post-mortem on what went right or wrong in my investigations. But, over time, my successes started to overshadow my failures, and I became over-confident in my abilities. I began to downplay the suggestions of other agents and started to work solo on most of my investigations. After all, I thought I could do it better than my colleagues. At some point, I was no longer a team player; instead, I had become an egotist. 

I knew enough about my personality to recognize that I didn’t crave admiration and praise, so I wasn’t a narcissist. But I had failed to take the double barrel by the handle and recognize that ego, often twinned with narcissism, had reared its ugly head and influenced my attitude toward my colleagues. It wasn’t until I decided to delve deeper into self-awareness that I recognized the miserable beast for what it was — an inflated ego.

Egotists believe themselves to be superior to others in skill and intelligence. As a result, some prefer to bully and insult others, while others are simply too self-centered to care about those around them.  An egotist’s inflated sense of worth rarely comes from buried or latent feelings of inferiority. Instead, they start to believe their own hype and honestly believe they are correct, which means that anyone else is wrong.

How to make it work for you

  • Is your sense of superiority confined to one topic, or does it apply to all areas of your life?
  • Dig down and identify when, how, and why your sense of superiority happened. What were the circumstances? With what types of people? 
  • Review your day and what happened in each situation. What could you have done differently? What did you not do?

2. Blame external factors for their problem

A favorite pastime for our society is to point fingers and blame others when something goes wrong. If people don’t get a promotion, the system is rigged. If they don’t make a sale, bias is the problem, not their abilities. In short, a weak person always has an excuse.

Yes, the world can be unfair and biased, and you can feel frustrated that not everyone thinks like you or wants the same thing. But when your defenses are on high alert, you’re continually looking for the slight that’s been unfairly thrown your way. You fixate on what you can’t control and then blame others when the outcome isn’t what you wanted or anticipated. 

One obvious cure for this malady is to grow up. The world is not all about you and your precious feelings, even though that is what your ego would like you to believe. Instead, a more mature approach is to step outside of yourself and try to understand what other people think and feel. But, how do we grow up? Better yet, how do we help others grow up? 

People with a mentality that blames external factors for their problems are afraid to take responsibility for their actions. When we shove the blame on someone else, we give ourselves permission to feel smug and self-righteous.  Self-righteousness and indignation can become an addictive habit that arises as much from a chemical need as from valid concerns about justice. While it’s true that life presents many difficulties and problems, to blame others is to cast yourself as a victim.

Being a victim is very popular nowadays, regardless of background, sex or race. It’s convenient, and it sheds the necessary work to take complete charge of your own life and wellbeing. It takes a strong mind to be in charge of your own life. (Are you mentally tough? Take this evidence-based, FREE Mental Toughness Assessment.)

How to make it work for you: If you are someone who tends to blame external forces for your problems, conduct an emotional inventory:

  • How has this attitude led to bitterness and resentment?
  • When has this attitude kept you from moving forward in life and business?
  • How has this attitude sabotaged important relationships, both in life and business? 
  • When you blame others, you invalidate many of life’s best learning lessons — namely, the authority to be in charge of your own life.

3. Exhibit a staggering lack of humility

People can be tempted to become enamored of success and status. The problem is that many of us accomplish a little and decide we’re an expert. Our ego takes over common sense and logic. You know the type — a know-it-all with a big mouth who never listens to the opinion of others. They are often stupid enough to argue their point of view against someone trying to keep them from making a wrong decision for the simple reason they need to be right. It’s not unusual for people who lack the humility to be intelligent and, simultaneously, to also be a bit insecure. They become experts at rationalizing their own beliefs and use their intelligence to protect their fragile ego.

A truly successful person admits their mistakes and learns from them. They are humble enough to ask for the opinion of others. They treat everyone as an equal and are concerned about the wellbeing of the entire team.

When I talk to a manager, I get the feeling that they are important. When I talk to a leader, I get the feeling that I am important.” —Anonymous

How to make it work for you:

  • Set a good example when you examine your own personal habits. 
  • Take a few moments and pick out the changes you’d like to see, both in yourself and in those around you. 
  • Identify who and what inspires you to become a better human being, then use them as a template for your own behavior. 

4. Focus too much on fast tips

A big problem for egotistical people is that they avoid the deeper inquiries about themselves that are required for meaningful transformation. They may be willing to modify certain behavior but not their beliefs or values. Self-reflection requires them to become vulnerable. They may have to admit their weaknesses and failures, and a frail ego does not like to be reminded of its limitations. They become the quick-fix leader because they are only interested in what will help them get ahead — quick answers that offer tips on overcoming the latest obstacle. 

What fast tips don’t offer is an in-depth look at what blocks their self-development because, make no mistake, an egotistical leader has little interest in the process of self-awareness. They remain at a retarded level of growth that stalled somewhere in their younger years. Fast tips may act as a band aid in certain situations, but they never provide deep healing in addressing the long-term issues that require honesty and a desire to be authentic when dealing with others. 

Because an egotistical person is usually only interested in doing whatever it takes to be successful, they seldom delve into the deeper issue of meaning and purpose in their life. However, self-reflection about these hefty topics requires changing how they think about themselves and their role in life. Since egoists are self-centered, any deflection from their exaggerated sense of self-importance is met with resistance, which is why change is so hard for them.

How to make it work for you: Remind yourself of other times when you promised to make a change in your behavior but didn’t. 

  • What went wrong? 
  • When did it go wrong? 
  • How would you do things differently next time?


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years, during which she exposed and recruited foreign spies and developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty and deception. Find out if you’re mentally tough with Quy’s FREE, evidence-based Mental Toughness Assessment. Quy’s new book is “Secrets of a Strong Mind (2nd edition): How To Build Inner Strength To Overcome Life’s Obstacles.” Follow her on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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