Ego breeds ego.
I have a friend who is dealing with the impact of another person’s giant ego. This person throws his weight around, reminds subordinates of their place in the company’s food chain, bullies, threatens and seems completely unaware of his self obsession. He feeds his ego by feasting on others. Meetings are uncomfortable because other employees aren’t sure who the target of wrath will be for the day. “It seems selfish,’ says my friend; ‘but when he chooses someone else I’m relieved that it isn’t me even though I feel the other person’s pain.'” My friend has tried fighting back, confronted his rudeness, challenged his preconceptions, pointed out mistakes, but it hasn’t seemed to matter. “I’ve found that when I begin to focus on taking him down a notch or two, proving he’s not as great as he thinks, my ego begins to grow and manifests itself in ugly ways.”
As we worked though this issue I reminded my friend that; “Ego breeds ego. When your goal is to win or someone else to lose, you both suffer.” One of the most difficult people to deal with are those with an inflated opinion of themselves, especially when they are in positions of power. Wisdom teaches us that humility, even in the face of the egotistical, is the path we should walk. Power, pride, personal gratification always slips through the fingers of the grandiose. Starve ego, don’t feed it or breed it.
This morning someone asked me if; “a leader with a strong personality is a good or bad thing?” I reflected for a few moments on the leaders I have served under. Surprisingly there haven’t been too many who’ve had strong personalities. As I whittled my way through the last I thought of two who fit the description. Interestingly enough one had the opposite personality of the other.
The first was gregarious, affable and larger than life in his expressions of love and support for friend and stranger. He was the type who would come unexpectedly into my office, plop down in a chair, talk for a while and then decide we needed to go to breakfast, no matter the time of day. He wasn’t in competition with his staff, allowed others to shine and didn’t keep a scorecard.
The other wasn’t at all like the former. His personality was certainly large but in a way that kept others in fear of their job or at least being aware their job’s future was in his hands. I do not doubt his love for other people but his leadership style could be overbearing and constraining. There was one way, his, one voice, also his. He believed his vision for where the organization was to go was the right one and took umbrage to anyone who challenged this belief. For those who were comfortable with his style, and their place in the food chain, things were pretty smooth. For those who struggled under the weight of his personality it could be difficult and debilitating.
As the conversation with my friend continued I spoke about both leaders, their style of leading and managing and their grandiose personas. “For those with over-sized personalities, whose job it is to guide staffs, peoples and organizations, not taking oneself too seriously is a good trait to possess. Humility, a servant’s heart and a willingness for others to succeed, to surpass and outgrow your ability to lead are also rare and valuable gifts. Leadership isn’t about sitting, guarding the big chair, but helping others find big chairs of their own to sit in.”
When you do as much driving as I do, especially on the back hills of rural Tennessee, you become accustomed to the sight of deceased animals that chose the wrong time to cross the road, zigged when they should have zagged, froze in terror in front of an oncoming vehicle.
You also get used to seeing turkey buzzards or turkey vultures. They appear majestic with their impressive wing spans, long dark feathers and, until you get a closer look, might even mistake them for an eagle or large beautiful bird of prey. However, these nasty fowl are scavengers. They use their powerful wings to soar high in the sky, looking for dead creatures of all shapes and sizes, then swoop in and make a feast of the carcass.
Earlier today, on my way to a Community Action Board meeting, I was hit in the nose by the unmistakable stench of deceased animal. Surrounding it was a flock of turkey buzzards in the tall grass gorging themselves on the repugnant meal. I never saw the remains but the feathered opportunists gave it’s location away.
In my life I’ve met people who might be considered vultures. They’re always on the look out for someone who is wounded, hurt, in pain. They search diligently for an opportunity in another’s time of weakness and frailty. They’re hoping they can benefit from a time of crisis, an unfortunate event. They often look impressive, big smiles, soothing words, can even be mistaken for a friend. However, this noble persona is only a disguise to hide their intentions and voracious appetites. There is no caring or empathy for the dead or dying. They’re only concern is gaining from someone else’s loss.
A poem; “Illusion” I penned a couple of years ago about turkey vultures:
with your beak stuck in the air high browed and looking 'round descending from on high an archangel coming down with keen crystal eyes you see the world as yours to take soaring with the clouds earth-bound creatures are your prey talons outstretched, sharp and at the ready squeezing, tearing, grasping that which satisfies hunger driving you among lowly ones as they scamper soiling yourself briefly then returning to the skies perched majestically above it all a belief you're God's crafted sculpture but up close a lowly scavenger not an eagle just a vulture