Ego and Leadership: Balancing Personal Drive with Organisational Needs

4 min read
Ego and Leadership - Epsom College

Following our recent podcast episode with Sir Anthony Seldon, the current head of Epsom College, an author of over 45 books on contemporary history, politics and education and an honorary historical adviser to 10 Downing Street, we decided this insightful episode presented some notable themes. In this blog, I’m going to take a deep dive into the role ego plays in leadership.

The term ego often comes with plenty of negative connotations; however, it plays a vital role in the ability to lead. Ego encapsulates confidence, resilience and motivation however it can manifest into narcissism, resistance to feedback and a lack of empathy.

The Role of Ego in Leadership

Some of the positive aspects of ego regarding leadership are confidence and vision. These traits enable leaders to pursue ambitious goals that some would deem a lost cause or out of reach; to be a leader you need a small amount of delusion to strive to achieve the “unachievable”. This resilience allows leaders to continue pushing onward when faced with adversity and overcoming said adversity will ultimately reinforce the trait of resilience even further.

A leader driven by ego will also be highly motivated to achieve success and if this aligns with the organisation’s success, they will ultimately be acting in the best interests of the organisation to accomplish this. Some hugely beneficial traits come with an ego and although it is thought of mostly in a negative light it plays a massive role in most leadership roles

It is also important to consider the factors that can manifest if an ego becomes to inflated. For example, if a leader becomes highly motivated to achieve success, their motivation could promote reckless decision making which may fall against the organisation’s best interests. If a leader begins to put their best interests above that of the organisation, they will ultimately be a weaker leader. Another trait that could rear its head is a lack of empathy as they will struggle to empathise with their team, which will prove detrimental to the team’s morale.

Finally, if a leader becomes too ego-driven they may develop a resistance to feedback. Feedback acts as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and by being resistant to it ego can become uncontrollable. It is vital that leaders surround themselves with people who aren’t afraid to challenge their ideas in order to keep their egos in check.

Insights from Sir Anthony Seldon, Author, Historian and Educator.

During Episode #6 of The Culture de-cooded Podcast, Seldon explains that there is a lot of ego in what he does, he does what he does for his children and in honour of his parents. He explains that “the idea of denying ego is egocentric in itself”.

Seldon presents the notion that people can become too attached to specific parts of their lives for example their school or university however they should identify with the whole of their life, and they should view themselves as equal to everybody regardless of any group. He finishes his point by emphasizing that leaders need to particularise around what they are leading but also need to be able to cut off after the fact and remember that we are part of one world.

Seldon’s views are fascinating and a great example of trying to remain grounded while maintaining the positive aspects of ego. Ego is often about oneself however Seldon appears to be driven by his family and privileged upbringing. Seldon is determined to build bridges to help provide opportunities and learning to those less fortunate than himself.

Strategies for Leaders to Balancing Ego with Organisational Needs

Being self-aware is crucial to keeping an ego in check. Self-reflection and exploring the motivations behind your decisions to understand how your ego may affect your behaviour. Journaling can be a good way to document your day to day and will make reflecting on your actions much easier.

Also, seeking and listening to feedback from trusted colleagues may help in grounding an inflated ego. Similarly, leaders should exercise humility, they should recognise their employees’ contributions and celebrate their successes.

Leaders need to create collective goals; they must align their ambitions with those of the organisation. This goes for their employees as well, by setting goals that directly line up with the organisation’s mission the behaviours of both the employees and the leaders will align with the organisation’s strategy.

It is also vital that leaders listen to a mentor in order to hear external and objective perspectives while still learning and not assuming that they have all the answers. This external input will ultimately help leaders in balancing their personal drive with the needs of the organisation.

Finally, leaders need to develop a culture that encourages behaviours that are aligned with success. By targeting behaviours like transparency, information exchange, and distributed decision-making. This is why measuring culture is of the utmost importance, as targeting certain behaviours is a good start but to truly track your progress you need to diagnose the culture you have today (*cough*…).


In conclusion, ego has its pros and cons and leaders should strive to achieve a balance. By exercising the strategies explored throughout this blog leaders can prevent their egos from overpowering the needs of their organisation. Striving to demonstrate humility is vital and by taking on feedback, accepting mentorship and ultimately being self-aware, leaders can prevent an inflated ego. Self-improvement isn’t only limited to leaders though, all employees should constantly be working to improve, however, it is the role of leaders to model the behaviours they wish to see in their employees.

Culture15 is your complete toolkit for tracking culture change. CEOs and Exec Teams at world-leading organisations use Culture15 analytics to ensure success by aligning their culture with what they need to execute their strategy. If you’d like to find out how to define the culture you need, diagnose the culture you have and close the gap, talk to our team. 

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