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.

To Dwell Upon Absence

For terrible and personal reasons I have always been fascinated with the idea of “what might have been”.

Admittedly this is a concept that can become a little like the mirror of Erised in the Harry Potter series. One can waste away pondering what might have been.

In my version it is typically “who might I have become” or, more aptly, “what was stolen from me that has changed the fabric of who I am” etc.

This version of my ponderings are rooted in years of sexual abuse at the hands of numerous men when I was much, much younger.

More recently a new version has leapt into my consciousness and gnawed away at it. The idea of “who might I have become had I known my father”, and “who might I have become had I known my culture”?

My father was Jewish. I didn’t know this until my late 40s. It was a shocking and remarkable find through 23&Me DNA testing. I am happy I had the opportunity to talk to my mum about it before she passed away. I am happy I have had the opportunity of meeting two brothers I never knew I had as well as an uncle and nieces and step-sisters.

It is a very odd thing to me. My father having been Jewish means that it is the largest part of who I am genetically but I am devoid of experience except through my education in seminary which was obviously quite biased.

I cannot lay claim to a culture I never knew and yet it is responsible for half of me. I am not Jewish. Being Jewish is unlike any other culture in the world. It is a distinct people which is a distinct culture which is a distinct religion all bound up together in a messy and wonderful tripartite gem of humanity.

I love this about my heritage. I mourn for what I lost at not knowing my father. I yearn to better understand this absent part of me but to do so respectfully. I have not experienced anti-Semitism although I know with certainty my ancestors have.

I think about this. I think about the holocaust more than ever now because, given my heritage and my grandfather’s birthplace in western Russia (now Ukraine) many were likely obliterated at the hands of the  Einsatzgruppen or simply rounded up like the majority of Jews in Nazi occupied Russia.

So rises again the sad thought of not “what might have been” but “who might have been”. Cousins who should be but in the world and are not. So much loss.

My mother is another absence that is felt deeply and lends itself towards thoughts of what might have been.

These thoughts rattle about in my head along with yearnings to better understand the idea of loss and absence and what might have been but I am also reminded of a nice quote from the same source as the aforementioned mirror:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” — Albus Dumbledore regarding Harry’s discovery and subsequent fixation on the Mirror of Erised

needle free

from my current vantage
i see first to the west
and next to the north
than comes south
and, with a twist, and a lean
there lies the east

i know the sun
it is brightest to my left
where the shadows
they lean in toward me
while darkest to my right
in front the claw hand
of an old pine branch beckons
and autumn dominates behind

i am the centre
of a needle free compass
pointing nowhere
looking everywhere


These lines that pull me forward…these many bright binds that drag my obstinate self to the future – what if they should break? Every one an anchor to tomorrow that drives a small hope, what if they snap, each one gone is more tension on the rest; each one gone and I move slower…until I stop, until I stay…frozen in time and frozen in place – embedded in the banks of the ninth circle.


I must take hold of new lines and fix my bait with drive and purpose that I might cast again and again, ahead of myself and take hold of something new…some things new…and move again or even stand and swim into the great expanse on my own power.


You wait for things to happen as though you are somehow tethered to them. As though they create stability and pull you through time, into the future. You cast your line out and your hook takes hold of things – waking up at 7 am everyday; coffee with a friend Wednesdays at 3 pm; the digital edition of your community paper Thursdays at 10 am; dinner with mum Sundays…etc.

All of these lines cast out, and sunk deep into their targets, only when you reel you do not pull them in but rather it pulls you toward them…moving you in time.

You cast again and again and movement becomes purpose and purpose becomes meaning. It is all very comforting.