I have never enjoyed reading the work of people who write like they know everything. I have always resisted following people who acted like they were superior. Because I don’t trust people with big egos. I suspect you’re similar and share two secrets for managing these problematic people. We think of people who have big egos as really BIG people. Too big, yes, but big. They’re like black Cadillac Sedan de Ville’s of the 70s — big, bad, and totally brash.
Back in high school, I came to believe in a hypothesis that contained 49% of the essential secret I am now certain about with respect to egos. People with “big egos” have big insecurity! The ego is a show, where people are trying to prove something to an unconvinceable part of themselves. They are trying to prove that they are OK, that they are somebody, they matter, are worthy or lovable. They are trying to prove this to anyone — and everyone! — who will pay attention. But even back in high school, I could see the secret, which was this: the real target for their show was themselves. Maybe it would be more accurate to say they were trying to prove their worth to a powerful inner doubting Thomas, to an inner character (perhaps a reflection of an internalized parent or teacher or older brother who had doubted them, belittled them, or made them feel insecure).
Nothing in the 35 years since I first had this insight has altered my view: the big show is really designed to assuage their big insecurity.
This is the first and major secret to dealing with people with big egos – the insufferable bosses who have to always look good, or teammates who have to outdo everyone else. This secret about insecurity allows us to change our thinking. Instead of seeing power and annoying hugeness, we can see the reality: What’s big is their needfulness, their hungering, their sometimes desperation to be seen as worthy. That’ll get us 49% of the way.
The rest? That next 1.000000001% — that takes us over the hump to transformational action — is the hardest to achieve yet most important. The second half-plus-a-little of the secret is that the one with the big ego isn’t the only one who is insecure. I am insecure! And you are insecure. And I have yet to meet the person (and I have met amazing people) who was not insecure. I am annoyed by big ego people, because I have a big ego – a big need to assuage my own deep doubts. I want to be right, look smart, look good, be seen as a great teacher, a wonderful dad. I want to be okay, and (or because) I have a permanent companion within me who doubts the proposition that I’m just fine as I am. In a core way: I am no different than the egotist. Here’s the real power then. If, and as, I can accept that we — including me — are all doubtful about, and therefore driven to prove our worth, then I can cease being distracted by the egoists, egotists and even egomaniacs. I still have the sizable job of facing my own insecurities, but I don’t need to be annoyed by those who won’t face their inner demons of self-judgment. With self acceptance I can deal with those annoying “others” in a much more calm and effective way.
Even at 56 I am still learning how to realize the tremendous power of this altered view of egos — theirs and mine. But when it comes to the truth of the secrets themselves, I have no doubt whatsoever. I call them secrets because I so seldom have read about them clearly, and because I welcome your thoughts about the world of ego, as you
Lead with your best self.