Unfortunately, there is only one “sin” greater than falling into any of the Ego Traps described so far —and that is making positive changes to your behavior, avoiding a trap, and then falling back into old behaviors again. It’s called an ego relapse—the damaging descent from newfound emotional intelligence skills, right back into whatever ego pitfall has traditionally been your Achilles heel. Unfortunately, as we will discuss in a moment, this relapse creates more damage than not avoiding the trap in the first place.
Enter Ego Trap 8, which happens when leaders go back to their old, low-EQ ways and ruins their credibility among the team in the process. Here are a few examples:
· Isabela, who was long disliked by her team because of the last-minute work demands she’d place on them on Friday afternoons (Ego Trap 5 – being blind to downstream impact), began to delegate work earlier in the week after receiving 360 feedback that her last-minute approach was problematic for her team. Six months later, however, when her organization did not pass inspection by a national certifying agency, Isabela resumed overloading employees with work on Friday afternoons to ensure that they stopped “slacking off.”
· Cliff was known for not letting go of operational control but finally started delegating and letting his team take some risks after realizing his blind spot was stymying his company’s growth. A year after this change, one of his employees made a bad decision, which sent Cliff into a relapse. He overreacted by once again getting involved in every decision.
· After working with a coach, Don discovered that he was known for crushing opposing viewpoints during meetings. In response, he began making a conscious effort to listen and ask questions when someone raised perspectives counter to his own. Unfortunately, when Don suffered a back injury, his irritability ratcheted up and patience dwindled. The result? He resumed steamrolling team members who did not immediately go along with his viewpoint during conversations and meetings.
Ego Trap 8 is triggered when a leader shifts from high-ego to high-EQ behavior—demonstrating the potential to be self-aware, empathic, and self-disciplined—only to slip back into the same high-ego behavior exhibited in the past. Others see that the leader is capable of change when they are focused and motivated to do so; the leader proves him or herself capable of acting sensitively and using self-control and situational awareness. Until they don’t. This sends a message to others that the leader is choosing to act with low EQ. This in turn leads to a credibility breech so deep that team members no longer trust and believe in the leader. If perception and loyalty were on the line before changing, there are even more important things at stake for sustaining it.
According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, credibility is “the quality or power of inspiring belief.”[i] Wikipedia describes credibility as “believability of a source or message” including “trustworthiness.”[ii] Within the leadership realm, I see credibility as the bank of trust leaders build up between themselves and their teams, which gives the followers confidence as to whether or not what the leaders say and do is reliable, dependable, and authentic. With credibility, leaders can motivate others to do their work—because the team trusts the leaders’ ability to work hard, to demonstrate the very behaviors that are expected of them, and to deliver on promises.[iii] With credibility, leaders demonstrate “the integrity, intent, capabilities, and results” that make them believable to themselves and others.[iv] Without credibility, however, teams lose respect for their leaders’ authority and question leaders’ ability to do the job. What’s more, individuals’ motivation to give their best to their leaders wanes.
[iii] Harvard Business Review. (2012, Aug. 10). Demonstrate your credibility as a leader [Management Tip, adapted from the Harvard ManageMentor Online Module: Leading and Motivating]. Retrieved from Hbr.org/tip?date=081012
[iv] Covey, Stephen M. R. (2008). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything Free Press, p. 45.