Three Questions to Remove Ego from Decision Making

As President Barack Obama wrestles with the issue of what to do next in Afghanistan, there is absolutely one thing he cannot do: Make it personal. That is precisely the mistake that his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson made when escalating the war in Vietnam.

Again and again, as is made clear by listening to tapes of him in the Oval Office, Johnson personalized the war not as the United States versus North Vietnam (or Russia and China), but as LBJ against the world, be it the enemy abroad or those inside his administration and throughout the nation who protested the war.

Let us be clear, personalization is not the same as passion. Leaders need to have conviction about what they do; they need to love their work and the people who do it. That’s passion. By contrast, personalization is the conflation of ego and hubris; it causes a loss of focus because the executive puts what he wants to do ahead of what the company should do. Personalization is the enemy of the business case, and for that reason you should avoid it. So here are three questions that every leader must ask when making a decision that will have significant consequence on the organization.

1. How will this decision make things better for the organization? Consider how the decision will affect the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. Managers who push their teams to achieve “stretch goals” without providing adequate support and resources may be seeking to get noticed by their bosses rather than helping the company serve its customers. Such behavior will have another side effect — talent will exit. The answer to this question must enhance the organization, not simply the resume of the manager.

2. How will this decision affect employees? The business case for your decision should factor in the people quotient and affects on headcount, training, and development. Employees must execute what leaders decide, so if employees perceive that their boss is only doing something to make himself look good, they’ll be reluctant to embrace the change. They may comply, but they may never commit unless they determine the benefit for themselves.

3. How will this decision affect me? When you are involved in a project, it is easy to entangle ego with outcome. Healthy ego is necessary, but when too much ego makes you blind to obvious problems such as lack of resources, customer disinterest, and employee morale, problems arise. As we have seen with corporate executives in the financial sector, it isn’t positive when personal interest comes before corporate and public interest. So if the answer to this question is more in favor of you rather than the company, the issue may be over-personalized and need more deliberation.

There is one aspect of personality leaders should possess, and that is compassion. Lyndon Johnson was personally heartsick at the heavy loss of life that “his” war in Vietnam caused. No president can ever forget that his decisions result in putting men and women in harm’s way. He must feel for the people under his command, just as every CEO must care about the people who work in the company he leads. Compassion is an emotion directed toward others; personalization is selfish because it focuses only on ego.

Too much personalization can be deadly, and keeping a check on it will help you navigate over treacherous issues with a clear and open mind, rather than one clouded by arrogance.

See the original post here, by John Baldoni @ Harvard Business Publishing