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How to Manage the Big Ego

Big-headed employees are usually problematic, but you can harness their boundless energy if you manage them correctly.

By Richard Ensman

The guy or gal with the big ego … you know the type. Always trying to be front and center of everything. Bragging about accomplishments, real or imagined. Dominating the conversation, and pushing and pulling to steer it toward themselves.

Big egos are present everywhere: among your colleagues and employees, your customers, your suppliers. At first blush, they may seem to present nothing but problems. But people with big egos often have tremendous drive and ambition. Harnessed, these qualities can do everyone a world of good. With a little thought and deft action, you can build sound working relationships with these folks, and manage their seemingly egotistical behavior productively.

Understand it.
Once you encounter someone with a large ego, try to understand its origins. This understanding can help you build a working relationship with the individual. Hint: Look for pressures in the individual’s work life. For example, a sales professional in a highly competitive industry might exhibit egotistical behavior as a sales tactic.

What part of the individual’s behavior can you influence? Answer that question and you may be on your way toward a positive working relationship.

Complement it.
Pattern your behavior so that it harmonizes with that of your egotistical colleague. The result may be improved communication and an opportunity for you to reshape the more offending elements of his behavior. Hint: Exhibit behavior that reinforces your desire to work with the individual. For example, you might ask a boastful individual to describe one or two of his accomplishments in more detail.

Probe it.
What part of the individual’s behavior can you influence? Answer that question and you may be on your way toward a positive working relationship. Hint: Distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined when it comes to the individual’s concerns. For example, a new employee might already have your trust, but may simply be overcompensating to prove herself to you. In this instance, you’ll be able to provide reassurance.


To some extent, what constitutes “egotistical” behavior lies in the eye of the beholder. But when you observe one or more of these signs in another individual, chances are you’re dealing with someone preoccupied with his or her own image:

  • Bragging—repeated boasts of superior accomplishments.
  • Excessive talk—incessant attempts to dominate conversation, or steer the conversation to oneself.
  • Exaggerated behavior—always attempting to force oneself into the center of activity.
  • Insensitivity—expressing views or taking actions without regard to the thoughts or feelings of others.

Acknowledge it.
While it’s always tempting to criticize the individual with the large ego, criticism usually doesn’t help much. Better to calmly and professionally recognize the behavior, and even discuss it with the other individual. Hint: Always demonstrate an open, nonjudgmental demeanor.

Modify it.
The secret to reshaping ego-oriented behavior is usually a simple one: reinforce and reward the behavior you’d rather see. Hint: Look for examples of even-tempered, forthright action on the part of the individual--exactly the opposite of egotistical behavior. Explain to him why those actions are especially satisfying and productive.

Eliminate it.
If you’re in a position to set concrete behavioral expectations, consider doing so. Hint: Behavioral objectives are especially appropriate in employee appraisals. You might, for example, set an expectation of low-key communication, and practice that communication style as part of the appraisal conference.

Model it (the desired behavior, that is).
Act the way you want your egotistical employee to act. More importantly, appear confident in doing so. Hint: It’s possible that she hasn’t seen the type of temperate behavior you’re advocating. Your positive actions might influence hers, and your confidence and self-esteem may inspire her.

Richard Ensman is a freelance writer and occasional contributor to He can be reached through


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