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It isn’t IF, it’s only WHEN.

As I sat in my chair that evening, I heard the speaker say you will forget 90% of what I say tonight.  However, if you remember anything please remember this.

“There is no doubt you will be successful in your careers, some of you beyond your wildest dreams.  But no matter what, remember one thing:

You must keep your ego in check. 

It isn’t a matter of IF it will get you, it is only a matter of WHEN.  Don’t let your inability to manage your ego ruin all that you have worked for or worse hold you back from reaching your full potential.  Start now to practice the discipline when you still have time.  You will need it later.”  It’s been over 25 years since I heard that advice.

It stuck. 

Each time I read the news or look at a business leadership issue I looked for evidence.  I started to notice the downfall of a leader or a prominent official or celebrity was clearly marked. In most cases,  they had let their ego get out of check.

They began to believe that the rules no longer applied to them – they only applied to others.  They were in “control” and they had earned a status that entitled them to special considerations.

Or worse – that they had the ability to have a “secret” because after all, they were the boss.

I am thankful for the opportunity to connect to that wisdom so early on in my career.  And it’s a discipline I try to practice every day.  As a leader, it is important to remember it isn’t about us.  It is about the people.  Our success as a leader is directly related to our ability to inspire greatness in our organizations and not the other way around.

Recognizing the effort of your people, making it safe to share and have ruthlessly realistic conversations, being engaged on the front line, willing to hear the progress and the roadblocks and committing to work alongside your teams to make it happen are all the daily reminders.

And when the leadership recognition shows up on your desk, take time to share the celebration with those that made it possible.

Next time you look at the news or see a leadership issue, tell me if you have seen the same thing.  And share with me how you keep your ego in check.


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  1. Thanks for another great post, Nancy.

    One of the interesting things about having ego issues is you don’t realize that you do.

    You asked for examples from the news and a very clear example of ego out of check is the Dr. Nancy Snyderman/ebola issue and her walking out of quarantine to get some soup.

    That was an incredibly arrogant, egotistical, I am above it all move on her part. It will be interesting to see what price she pays, if any.

  2. Nancy,
    I had not seen your post until now, but it is a great message. I think ‘servant leadership’ helps prevent making mistakes that are driven by ego. Serving others connects us in meaningful ways, and being connected is the cornerstone of leadership.


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