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Believe It or Not, Big Egos Can Make for Great Employees. Here’s How to Support Them.

Ego arises from our need for significance. There’s nothing wrong with needing to feel significant. It’s simply the need to feel that we matter and to be validated as human beings. We all just want to be seen and to be accepted just as we are.

It’s about dignity.

However, if we are denied our dignity for extended periods of time, especially during childhood, we can develop an overattachment to our need for significance.

People with this overattachment want to feel very important, extra special, particularly unique and especially needed.

You can spot them in a few ways. Often, they are high performers. They work really hard and enjoy the achievement and accolades that come from this work. They like really big, high-profile projects. They often exhibit a unique personal style. Perhaps they care a lot about fashion, or have multi-coloured hair, tattoos, or statement make up. Oh yeah. And bow ties. If you see a dude in a bow tie, he definitely has a high need for significance.

On the negative side, they can see the world from a me, me, me perspective. They talk over people in meetings and can be dismissive of points of view that don’t match their own. They often complain that people holding these differing points of view are either “stupid” or “evil”. This creates blind spots that can make them very problematic during a crisis.

How to Support a Person with a High Need for Significance

It’s quite simple really. All you need to do is promise them impact.

Channel their need for significance in a positive direction. These are high contributors when properly motivated. Let them know how much you need them. And connect their sense of significance to the success of the entire team. The intention is to shift them from me, me, me to we, we, we. This can be done through careful choice of projects for them, or through compensation packages that are based on team performance.

Give them lots of validation along the way, but also, encourage them to think about things from the perspective of others. If they’re complaining that someone won’t do things the way they want them too, ask them to think about that person’s motivation. Maybe they’re afraid. Maybe they have too much on their plate, etc.

And finally, give them autonomy. Give them responsibility and control over how they do their work. Be sure there is scope for achievement. In other words, no thankless tasks.

Will some big-ego types still turn out to be jerks?


It’s an unfortunate fact that jerks often make it to senior leadership positions where they stomp around, making their superiority known to all. They alienate talented people who then leave the organization. They piss-off customers, costing the organization revenue. And sometimes, they bend the rules a bit too far, putting the organization at risk.

What’s a leader to do?

Don’t Hire Jerks

This is easier said than done as many jerks are superficially charming, especially when they want something, i.e. a job, but there are clues, and if you pay careful attention, you can spot them in the job interview.

Do they talk about their superiority? Does everyone love them? Were they the only person who could solve problems in their last job? Was everyone else at their last job substandard? Do they refer to themselves as victims or state that the situation in their last job was unfair? How do they talk about former bosses? Do they blame others for problems or failures?

Do they make you feel, for lack of a better word, icky? Are they overly flattering? Do they almost sound too good to be true? Do they use “negging” or backhanded compliments to make you feel inferior?

If too many of the above are true, think twice about that hire.

When a leader manages their big-ego types while ensuring no actual jerks make it into the organization, loyalty grows. Cooperation grows.

Everyone is relieved.

P.S. Are you the one with the big ego? Read about how to tame it here.


The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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