The Fragile Ego: Leadership Observations

It is interesting what one can learn about people on their team or in their management when one simply compliments another.

Take for instance the following scenario which happens regularly.

You are speaking with a co-worker or employee and you casually reference the strong performance of another person.

This is actually a good thing to practice. It is important that people know the attributes you value as a manager and/or leader. People pay attention to these sorts of comments.

Now people usually respond one of two ways – the first, most healthy response is to simply acknowledge your observation, perhaps echo it, but otherwise accept that you have given kudos to someone and then move on.

Sometimes however people respond differently. Sometimes people get very defensive at the mention of another employee or person’s stellar performance.

They may respond with little details about how you are not fully informed. They may point out that this other person is not really who you think they are and did not do nearly as much work as you give them credit for etc. etc.

This is usually a key sign of a person or employee with a fragile ego speaking out-of-turn about a co-worker as they seek to deflect or diminish your praise.

It is good to pay attention to these conversational cues because they provide good insight into the people around you.

Everyone needs to be praised from time to time. We all need to be acknowledged and lifted up. But in a team environment it is important that people can acknowledge others even if there is silence about their own efforts.

Silence does not mean judgement. If a person cannot accept others in the workspace being lauded this may be a sign that they struggle to be effective team members. If a person is so self-oriented that they cannot allow praise to be given to another without a defensive remark they may have difficulty working on a team without exercising a self-centered and fragile personality which can be destructive to such a space.

It should be noted that such comments usually only come out in one-on-one conversations as people are self-aware enough to hear what they sound like. If you notice that being in a crowd or group does not limit such commentary you can assume you are dealing with a person whose ego is so fragile they cannot keep silent and see such compliments paid to others as an injustice to themselves. This personality is likely toxic in a work (or any) environment.

It should also be noted that while this is a poor quality in an employee it is an absolute disaster in a leader and represents hubris which can be corrosive to an entire organization.

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