The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career? is by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in my career is to remain open to listening and learning. In other words, as my southern mom used to tell me, “Don’t get too big for your britches.” After a few years in business — and a certain amount of success — it is sometimes easy to think you‘ve seen and heard it all. When I first entered the ranks of management, this occasionally caused me to jump to conclusions or rush a presenter because I was sure I already knew what they were going to say. It also led to missed opportunities, such as asking clarifying questions that may have resulted in a great discussion or a better outcome.
It was moments like these, where I am sure the presenter felt disenfranchised and, on top of that, I missed a moment to create an environment where people felt empowered to share ideas or concerns. The ugly truth is that the tendency to stop learning happens when “ego” has a bigger presence than “confidence” in your management style. Confidence is an important leadership attribute as decisions that affect people’s lives and involve large sums of money are made regularly with imperfect or insufficient information. But you don’t have to be egotistical to be confident.
Understanding the difference between these qualities as you develop your own management style can make a big impact in your career. Why? Well, I’ve come to learn that not only is ego-driven leadership destructive to the quality of the decisions being made, it also negatively impacts the potential for successful execution because employees don’t feel any ownership of the direction.
Additionally, people may avoid sharing bad news with an ego-driven leader. Excessive ego in senior leaders can dismantle the soul of an organization – and here’s the irony – it is also destructive to the leader. Ego inhibits your ability to continuously learn (which is critical for you to advance) and your ability to effectively teach (which is critical for the organization to advance). Unfortunately, ego often hides in the shroud of confidence, but it can be exposed with a willingness to ask yourself if are looking for the right answer or just looking to be right.
So the next time you feel ego rearing its ugly head, try this: consciously consider the possibility that you might not know everything (which, by the way, you don’t). If you can really listen, you just might learn something, make a better decision, and engage your team in the execution. Plus, you will avoid having to buy a larger pair of pants.