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November 14th, 2016

Success: Talent & Ego


This is the second post in the series that looks at success and its various facets and consequences. The previous post explored the relationship between success and the effect that it can have on a person's ethics and choices. This post looks at the connections between success, talent, and ego on both a personal and organizational level. 


Should Talent Be Your Number One Priority?

Typically, the rule of thumb for successful companies is to continuously be on the lookout for new and better talent. This is because there is an assumption that the company with the best and brightest talent will naturally be the most successful. This “war” for talent is found across business industries, sports, education, and politics.  

Having exceptional talent, or superstars on your team obviously has benefits. As this Harvard Business Review article points out, “High-performers have been estimated to be four times as productive as average workers, and research has shown that they may generate 80% of a business’s profits and attract other star employees.”

However, the overall problem with this attitude is that it overlooks the fact that institutions with the most effective teams often outperform their counterparts that have more talented individuals. On top of this, constantly looking for, and revering external talent, can cause problems with employees already within the firm. Feelings of underappreciation, and of their talent being downplayed are common. This can create a culture of unhealthy competition, with internal learning and knowledge transfer, teamwork, and creativity, becoming next to impossible.

A major drawback to success and thinking you are the best and brightest, and having others think you are the best and brightest, is the effect that it can have on your ego. A person who is talented in their field, intelligent, highly educated, with a clear vision of their career path, but lacking in emotional intelligence (EQ) can easily possess an ego that spirals out of control. Strong personalities can also spell trouble when talking about egos due to this type of person being more inclined to believe in the power of their own ideas rather than those of their colleagues.

To break it down into its most simple form:


Ego’s Dark Side:


This leads to the interesting question of, can you have too many talented people on a team, and when does it become detrimental to your organizations overall success?

Based on the evidence from the literature that has been discussed thus far, the short answer is yes. Wise organizations and people know that they don’t know everything. Having too many talented people, or believing that your organization has all of the talent makes this wisdom and understanding of limitations challenging.

This is true across sectors, successful coaches know that a team of stars will not be successful unless they are willing to focus their skills towards team goals rather than their own personal, individual excellence. Mentoring others to help better everyone’s skillset encourages growth in yourself as well as your teammates. If individual achievements are the focus, the team at large will be unsuccessful, and the talent it does have will ultimately result in failure. A classic example of an athlete with incredible work ethic, coupled with a poor team mentality is Kobe Bryant. And while there were of course multiple factors at work, the result was that in the last few seasons before his retirement, the overall success of the Lakers plunged, and the fault was often placed on Bryant's back. Our previous blog post on sports and leadership explores these themes more fully. 

Talent and success go hand-in-hand. The key to sustaining talent’s positive impact over time is how well we can manage our egos in the context of a team setting. Great organizations bring out the best in the people they have, rather than always searching for someone new.

But (there is always a but), there are always two sides to every story, and success and talent do not always create over-inflated egos. And as we will see, a healthy ego is actually a powerful psychological tool, that coupled with talent become imperative ingredients to success.


Ego’s Bright Side:


The positive attributes that are associated with a healthy ego are all interrelated and work together to drive away insecurity, fear, and apathy. Without them, finding and creating success in any arena would be a challenge few would even attempt to achieve.


Finding Balance

Clearly there is a fine line that must be walked in order to maintain the right balance personally, and among individuals on a team. Jeff Wolf, a business coach and management consultant, outlines traits that are key in developing this balance:


A way for leaders and coaches to moderate egos in a team setting is to have goals that are lofty and require teamwork to work towards. Motivating talent to be engaged can inspire dynamic creativity and problem solving in the whole team. 


While talent is an important part of sustaining a successful business, it is not the be-all end-all. Working together as a team, being unafraid to fail, responding positively to constructive criticism, and understanding that even superstars can fall, will ensure that you and your organization do not become victims of inflated egos. Being well-rounded and having strongly developed EQ is key to adding full value as a talented member of a successful team.

Despite the overwhelming societal belief that ego is a negative aspect of our consciousness, as the literature points out, there are facets that provide necessary positive mental benefits. The question regarding members of your team then shouldn’t be about the size of their ego, but whether their EQ is such that they are coachable and open to development. The question to ask your organization is, do we have a culture that supports learning, that can bring the best out of the talent that we have?

Success and ego end up being cyclical in nature. Talent and ego drive success, with success then driving the inflation of ego. Individual and organizational success is dependent on finding the right balance between them.








Sources used for this post

Baer, D. (2016). Powerful People Think Differently About Their Thoughts. Science of Us. Retrieved 3 November 2016, from

Baer, D. (2016). What Is ‘Presidential Temperament,’ Anyway?. Science of Us. Retrieved 4 November 2016, from

Baldoni, J. (2016). Managing Big Egos So the Entire Team Wins. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 8 November 2016, from

Dahl, M. (2016). Psychologists Echo Obama’s Belief That Power Reveals Who You Really Are. Science of Us. Retrieved 14 November 2016, from

Forde, M. (2016). Managing Talent with Big Egos - Mike Forde Performance. Mike Forde Performance. Retrieved 6 November 2016, from

Pfeffer, J. (2001). Fighting the War for Talent is Hazardous to Your Organization's Health. Stanford Graduate School of Business. Retrieved 8 November 2016, from

Nelson, A. (2016). USC prof Nate Fast on how leaders use power to get things done - L.A. Biz. L.A. Biz. Retrieved 2 November 2016, from

Wolf, J. (2016). The Costs of Ego. Retrieved 6 November 2016, from