The Ego and Decision Making

By Dawna Jones

When decisions don’t go as planned or teams don’t perform as well as they could, egos are often involved, particularly as you move higher up the chain of command.

The fact is that the ego gets blamed for a lot of poor decisions. Fair enough. When the boss is critical or puts an employee down in order to feel more important himself, blaming the ego makes sense. But is the ego really to blame?

Looking at the ego’s role

The ego’s job is to make sure you feel safe and secure in the world. It looks after your physical, emotional, and social well-being. Most of these physical, emotional, and social needs become beliefs that are stored in your subconscious. If they are not met, these needs can derail decisions as your ego — your subconscious protector — takes charge instead of you.

Three categories of needs exist:

  • Basic survival: These are the physical needs. Unmet ego-based decisions come from fear or anxiety about not being safe or not having enough . . . money, clothes, or whatever makes you feel safe and secure. (Now you know why people and companies who obviously have a lot of money still don’t feel they have enough.) Blaming and judgment are behaviors expressing an underlying survival fear or insecurity.

  • Recognition, gratitude, acceptance, and validation: These are the social needs. Unmet ego-based decisions in this category come from anxiety about not belonging, feeling accepted, or being acknowledged. Decisions are motivated to compensate for lack of self-worth. In the workplace, blame-finding runs rampant, and the culture exhibits a deficiency of respect.

    Conversely, when a company’s culture supports the emotional well-being of its employees, they feel they can safely bring more of their skills and abilities to the fore.

  • Self-esteem: Self-esteem (feeling good enough) and self-worth (being respected for the value you bring to the world) are intertwined emotional needs. Self-confidence plays a part as well. Ego-based decisions in this realm aim to fill gaps in self-esteem or self-worth.

    People who want to feel better about themselves make decisions that meet their needs, and company goals fall to the bottom of the list. In fact, most of the senior level temptations, such as the desire for harmony over dealing with conflict or a focus on achieving a position of status over achieving results, can be triggered by the workplace culture, and aim to counterbalance deep emotional needs.

Getting ego under control

When ego gets in the way, it can be a strong deterrent to sound decision-making. To reverse the situation, try these tactics:

  • Instill a culture that supports employee well-being on every level, even the emotional and social levels, too. When you instill a workplace culture that supports employees, you create a healthier decision-making environment that is oriented less toward self-interest and more toward achievement.

  • Offer growth and development opportunities for employees at every level. Both formal and informal learning opportunities give employees the autonomy to chart their own development. When you recognize that everyone leads, you’ll have employees who are better leaders and decision-makers. Growth and development can partially substitute for traditional progression up the corporate ladder, particularly in companies where those opportunities are limited.

  • Instill a culture of genuine recognition and acknowledgement that goes far beyond the gold watch at retirement. Say thanks without using a schedule. Build acknowledgement into the ethic of the company as a genuine expression of appreciation. Integrate simple acts of gratitude as a regular practice.

From a business standpoint, the simplest way to support employees is to take ego out of the equation. You do that by providing a healthy working environment and a consistent management style that recognizes and acknowledges the contributions of employees and demonstrates respect for all in the workplace.

When the workplace supports and respects employee input, your employees can concentrate on giving their talent. In this way, care and compassion displayed by leaders and management inspire employee engagement beyond the intellect and support performance.