In theory: Egonomics

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

It's not often that an intelligent business book comes on the management scene, but Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (Or Our Most Expensive Liability), by consultants David Marcum and Steven Smith, is one of them. Ego relates to self-esteem. Too much of it leads to a hyper-inflated sense of self-worth, the book says, and too little means being a doormat.

What has this got to do with management? Plenty. As the manager of a charity, you need to get the people who work for you to do what you want them to. The best managers will have just the right amount of ego to enable this to happen effectively. Too much ego will make others hate you; too little will mean those who work for you will ignore your wishes.

How do you know if you are enjoying an optimum ego level? In their enlightened treatise, Marcum and Smith give three characteristics: humility, curiosity and veracity. What does this mean in reality? In your role as manager, exercise some intelligent self-respect. Recognise that there are limits to your talents but also be switched on to your good points. Remain curious about other ways of doing things - don't ever rest on your laurels. Veracity means realising the truth of a situation and then being able to deal with it in the best way.

You need to watch out for three tell-tale signs, in yourself and in the people who work for you, that identify when things aren't right on the ego front.

The first is being too competitive. Such people think they can take on the world and solve problems that even the UN would struggle with. The second is being defensive, or always having to be right. The third is always 'showcasing brilliance', because no one likes a show-off. And finally, (as the newly revived Trevor McDonald would say), a fourth is when you end up continuously seeking acceptance because you have too little ego.

Avoid these pitfalls and your managerial egonomics balance sheet will be in the black.

- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today.

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