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Step aside and let others shine

Leaders like to be at the forefront. They are the face of the team. But in organizations with organic and skilled professionals, leaders sometimes need to be able to step aside and make room for others. 5 tips to tame your ego.

In the 80s, just after Jack Welch became CEO of General Electric, the American company actively started taking over other companies. But not always successful. They bought investment bankers Kidder, Peabody & Co, but this acquisition turned into a disaster and General Electric lost millions. In his autobiography Welch described this episode with the title ‘Too Full of Myself’. His ego took over, Welch said. “There is a small difference between self-confidence and overconfidence. This time my overconfidence was bigger. A lesson I will never forget.”

It takes a village to raise a company

Welch stayed on as CEO for another 20 years. In these years he turned into a very successful ánd approachable CEO. He never hesitated to stress that a CEO’s success is the result of teamwork and not his personal achievement. The ‘small difference’ between his self-confidence and overconfidence cost General Electric a lot of money, but Welch set things straight: in his time as CEO the value of General Electric increased from 14 to 490 billion dollars.

Self-confidence is a crucial ingredient for leadership …
… but can be a risk factor as well

The ego can be a risk factor

Since the 80s, the ego as a risk factor became more and more current. In today’s era of new leadership and self-organisation, leaders deal with teams full of independent, skilled professionals. They all can and want to excel in their own area of expertise. But, leaders often like to be centre stage. Aren’t they responsible for the team? Aren’t they the team’s spoke person? Aren’t they being paid to be centre stage? The self-confidence Welch mentions, is a crucial ingredient for leadership. And leaders like to express their self-confidence. Taking a step back seems contrary to this ... Please find below 5 tips to deal with this dilemma.

1. Give others an opportunity to shine

“A lot has changed in leadership”, says Renzo Taal, senior vice president Northern Europe at Salesforce, specialist in customer management software. In many ways, Salesforce is an example for organisational innovations we see in many different companies. “In autonomous teams we often work with skilled professionals”, says Taal. “They are more comfortable in their own area of expertise than the team leader. Which is exactly the intention.”

Team managers do not necessarily need to have all the answers
Taal: “Team managers supervise. And they ensure the overall consistency between different teams and assignments. They also ensure consistency within the teams. Because teams can constantly change.”

People are excited to take the stage
To be less at the forefront, Taal gives others an opportunity to shine. “Literally”, he explains. “During meetings professionals explain what they are working on in front of the group.” Different teams prepare the ‘All Staffs’ quarterly meetings. “The teams have a lot of freedom to organise these meetings”, Taal says. “Often I have no idea what they will be doing until the last minute.” But the results are great, Taal explains. “Most people are very excited and keen to prepare the meetings and to ‘take the stage’.

2. Excel for the team

Team managers have specific skills and are very decisive. Great qualities for a leader but at the same time these qualities can make it harder to serve others. Anja de Boer, organisational psychologist, system therapist and trainer at de Baak: “These qualities can still be very useful if you use them differently though. Most leaders like to excel. The secret is to excel for the team, not just for themselves.”

Create the right climate
Leaders can mean a great deal for their team, says De Boer. “They can support their people. They can support beautiful projects. Or they can be there for their people when necessary, to keep them from troubles.” Leaders can help teams by fighting hard for them. It might not instantly be good for your ego, but it will benefit your team and that will reflect back to you, explains De Boer. “It is like parenting: when your child receives good results, you feel proud. You did not get those results, but you created the right circumstances and environment for your child to achieve those results.”

3. Do nót simply take over

Do employees get more responsibilities? That does not mean everything will go smoothly straight away. Mistakes might happen. And leaders often tend to step in and take over. “Don’t!’, advises Anja de Boer, “Try to resist that temptation, because people learn from their mistakes.” She believes leaders need to learn to take a step back. De Boer: “They can guide people into the right direction. Refer them to the right place. Help them seek a solution. But do not simply take over. Only by giving people room to develop, they can grow into their role.”

4. Know your motives

It is not easy to put your ego aside, but it is the most important part of ‘servant leadership’, according to Henk Jan Kamsteeg, coach and author of the book Servant Leadership. Kamsteeg: “You are no longer the teams number one star, instead you become the teams number one coach. Only then your team members can fully develop themselves. That means you have to keep your own ego in control.”

Easier said then done, leaders tend to have a big ego …
Kamsteeg: “I believe every leader needs to constantly question their position. What are my motives? What is really important to me? This struggle to tame your ego is nothing to be ashamed off”, finds Kamsteeg. “We are all familiar with this struggle. But by looking into the mirror every now and then, you realise what goes right and what goes wrong. That will help you guide your behaviour.”

“There is nothing wrong with a big ego.
You just need to know how to deal with it.”

5. ‘Score’ elsewhere

Leaders are often ambitious and decisive, says Anja de Boer, but sometimes they have to take a step back and be more subservient. De Boer: “What often helps, is using those qualities differently. I know many leaders who look for another challenge. They take the stage as a musician for example. Or they train for a marathon. That is another way to blow off steam and express your strength.” There is nothing wrong with a big ego, says De Boer. “You just need to know how to deal with it.”

Source: mt.nl. This article is part of the dossier New Leadership (Nieuw Leiderschap) on MT.nl. De Baak owns this dossier.

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