The office boy was distributing the mail that had just come in, working his way from the doorway in. The boss came out of his corner office, and made no secret of his displeasure that the kid’s delivery route had not begun at that corner office.
The kid, embarrassed at being dressed down in front of everybody, blurted out what he may have thought was a joke: “Oh, I always start with the important people around here.” The man exploded. “I ought to knock you through that window!” he said angrily.
The outburst, was typical of the man. People who knew him better would never have been so flip. You needed to be respectful – make that obsequious – if you wanted to stay out of the line of fire. No matter what the boss did.
This ego-vs.-confidence matter is not trivial. When management is not good, you often find it’s because there is more ego than confidence in the behavior of the person who exercises authority in that place.
When ego dominates, you have an unhappy and failing workplace. When management is really confident, it doesn’t guarantee a successful place to work, but the possibilities dramatically improve.
Ego and confidence are not opposites. Both reside within the person, and both contribute to the person’s self-esteem. But they have very different sources – and they produce radically different attitudes and behaviors.
How do you feel about yourself, your worth? This is your ego at work. It’s often referred to as self-esteem, and it’s an emotional state. Emotion makes for a shifting attitude, and frequently is dependent upon outside factors – such as how people treat you.
If you’re the boss, say, and you’re covering for low self-esteem, you are hypersensitive to anything that might expose your painful secret. You deepdown don’t think you’re really worthy, and you’re terrified people will find out.
Your fear is always very close to defensive anger. Any potential threat triggers an overreaction.
Such as an office boy not showing the proper level of respect.
Not so for the self-confident manager. Of course there is ego there, and you can’t be a good manager without a substantial level of self-esteem. But the source of confident self-esteem is entirely different from that of the uptight manager.
Yours, if you’re self-confident, produces a much different attitude and it drives radically different behavior.
That is because true self-confidence is belief in one’s abilities built on conscious development of those abilities. People who build their workstyle this way devote themselves to investing effort until it is objectively true that they have mastered whatever result or skill it is.
Their self-confidence is evidence-based, and much more resistant to outside influence. They don’t wrap themselves in a pretense that they were born with these abilities. People who do that have sentenced themselves to a life of self-deception and paralyzing worry. They can be egotistical, but they’re not confident.
The confident boss has no secret fears to hide, and can be much more open and flexible in relationships and interactions.
It wouldn’t bother her that the office boy didn’t deliver her mail first. If the kid made some stupid crack, the manager might have a mild joke in response, or maybe just a chuckle. It was a passing irrelevancy, not a painful disruption.
If she wanted a different process for the mail. She would arrange it. Quietly and professionally.
In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the bottom level of the pyramid is fear for survival. Low-confidence managers have a constant anxiety akin to that, and it can be severe. It blocks them from their knowledge and imagination, keeping them from employing their true potential.
When you’re more open and honest with yourself, you become less needy. You move up the pyramid. Somewhere around the third/fourth level, you’re feeling okay about yourself because you’re in a good place and getting respect from those around you.
Once you get to that point, your self-esteem is solid, your confidence is growing and you are tapping into your real possibilities, mining your accumulated knowledge and experience.
New futures start to bloom for you. You’re much more interesting, you’re more interested in others, more considerate and pleasant to be around.
As a manager, you are flexible, understanding, forgiving, in possession of the long view. You can listen, suggest, advise with the other person’s realities and needs in the front of your mind. You are serene in your place. You can handle anything.