Ego and the Zero-Sum Game

Posted by: Paul  /   Category: Leadership / Team Building   /   No Comments

The culture of the team you are building and cultivating is critically important to the long term success of your business. People are not as fungible as many would like them to be. Everyone brings something different to the team and, if you build your team right, everyone’s contributions lead to a team that is higher performing than just a collection of skilled parts.

Ego is a destructive force on a team for many reasons. People who have a large ego don’t share information well and they are generally disinterested in the success of their peers. In fact, often times they are challenged by other people’s success and will work either passively or aggressively to prevent other people from moving their careers forward. Think about the people you work with. Ask yourself if some of them exhibit more than one or two of the following traits. Are they:

  • quick to point out the failure in others?
  • keeping information to themselves that other people need to be successful?
  • reluctant to share kudos when teams are celebrating successes?
  • constantly challenging other people’s ideas?
  • talking negatively about people who are promoted?
  • making themselves silos of knowledge?

If they do, there is a strong chance that these people have ego issues. Egoists will put their own self-importance ahead of their team mates, as well as the company, and they are NOT the type of people you want on your team. (Beware the siren song) Regardless of what you think they bring to the table, they take away so much more.

So why do I liken their actions to a zero-sum game?

  • Complementing someone else does not take away from your self-worth.
  • Being truly happy for someone else’s success does not take away from your ability to be successful.
  • Sharing knowledge with someone doesn’t diminish your own knowledge.
  • Telling someone they did a great job on a piece of work they accomplished does not reduce the quality of the work you do.

In acting the way they do, people with large egos encourage a zero sum game such that anything good that happens, or could happen, is negated by a negative comment, action or inaction. In a nutshell, they prevent teams from moving forward. Working hard, getting rewarded by your peers and sharing knowledge helps everyone build momentum.

If you suspect that someone has an ego which is negatively impacting your teams, call them out on their attitude.   Typically, people with larger egos will point out the negative in every situation, and invent the negative when it does not even exist. The key to addressing this issue is to ask the person, how their negativity is going to help the team move forward or improve in this circumstance. If you feel you aren’t helping this person overcome their issues, escalate to your leader. It is their obligation to try and have the best team possible.

With hard work, a good attitude and clear direction, a good team can overcome any circumstance. Don’t allow the ego to invade, and if it has, then it is time to manage that person in or out.

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About the Author

I'm Paul Birkbeck and I am the VP of Software Development and Operations at SPS Commerce. I love building and leading teams and genuinely love interacting with the people whom I work.

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