As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have had a front row seat to the evolution and melt down of Antonio Brown. My opinion is an unchecked ego has been his Achilles heel. A healthy ego that drove Antonio to go from an unheralded 6th round draft pick to the best receiver in the NFL on a Hall of Fame trajectory; grew too big, consumed his values, and now drives his actions.

Driven people tend to have an ego. Many people have been told that having an ego is a bad thing. However, the ego can help motivate us. Having an ego is normal. It is not a problem, unless it gets so big that it controls the person as opposed to the person’s value system controlling the ego.

While physical gifts and world-class skills are fundamental to the success of sport’s finest athletes, a level of self-confidence (or what can be called ego) is also a crucial ingredient. Athletes – as well as businessmen, the military, political officials and others – need to have enough self- esteem and sense of self-assuredness to be able to handle failures and tough times; this stems from having the right mindset and appropriate ego. Self-assuredness creates confidence regardless of the competition and circumstances.

A healthy ego has self-respect as well as respect for others. Self-respect and taking responsibility for our own existence creates respect for other people; we recognize that they do not exist simply to satisfy our needs. Self-respect is integral to having an ego while lack of respect for others comes from having an ego that has grown out of proportion.

There is a fine line between a healthy ego and being egotistical. Once that line is crossed, it becomes detrimental. An ‘inflated’ ego corrupts our behavior by narrowing our vision. We lose perspective and only see and hear what we want to. We create a strong confirmation bias by looking for information that confirms what we want to believe. An inflated ego prevents us from looking for flaws in our own work and learning from our mistakes. It makes it difficult to appreciate the lessons we glean from failure. Ego can get in the way of being self-critical and looking for ways to improve.

After success, we can think of ourselves as “hot stuff.” We’re not, because no one is. The danger in thinking we’re “hot stuff” is that it artificially inflates our ego. When we believe we’re the sole architects of our success, we tend to be ruder and more selfish. Egos need to be fed and can be somewhat addictive. When our ego gets too big, it needs fed more and we start to take from others. Our skills in some areas may be better than someone else’s, but that doesn’t make us a more valuable human being. No title, no position, and no amount of money can do that. Every person we’ve ever met or ever will meet is worthy of the same level of respect, regardless of position or accomplishments.

A healthy, well-balanced ego is the mark of an Authentic Leader. They can keep their ego balanced. They can share success by providing recognition and support to their people. Large egos tend to make leaders forgetful when it comes to recognizing other people. In the words of Jennifer Woo, CEO at The Lane Crawford Joyce Group, Asia’s largest luxury retailer, “Managing our ego’s craving for fortune, fame, and influence is the prime responsibility of any leader.”

Abraham Lincoln is a great example of an Authentic Leader. When the Civil War ended and Lincoln won re-election, he did not focus on his achievements. Rather he focused on bringing the country together: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

‘All Black’ rugby captain, Richie McCaw, has achieved everything a player can achieve in the game, both personally and with club and country. Despite the success he remained one of the humblest athletes in the world. This is indicative of a sport where humility is a requirement for success. For McCaw, the goal is to achieve something great rather than to be great. Ultimately, the end goal is the same, but the motivation is different.

Ego is tough to balance against reality. Man’s world encourages and promotes ego; an ego based on image, conquests, and compensation. Ego driven activities can be a distraction to what matters most. The two biggest ego motivators are Fear and Pride. Fear causes you to protect your self-image/self-interest; Pride causes you to promote your self-image/self-interest. The alternative is to replace ‘Fear and Pride’ with ‘Confidence and Humility.’ Confidence that is God grounded and does not rely on performance or on the opinion of others. Humility which is the “lack of vanity or self-importance.” To be humble is be devoid of self-pride, to be neither arrogant nor assertive. Humility and gratitude are cornerstones of selflessness.

I was once told that Ego can also stand for “Edging God Out”. Ego can result is an excessive preoccupation with “self” but dying to self is the biblical model for Christians. The Bible is filled with warnings of man’s inherent desire to be worshiped. While the word ego does not appear in the Bible, concepts and principles regarding the ego certainly do.

Paul reminded the Corinthians: “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you may learn from us not to go beyond what is written. so that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over against another. Who confers distinction upon you? What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7). The term ‘inflated with pride’ is found in the New Testament only in Paul’s letters. Its literal translation is “puffed up,” i.e., arrogant, filled with a sense of self-importance, and occurs in conjunction with the theme of “boasting.”

A respectful heart has no room for an inflated ego or arrogance, because it recognizes that ‘all we have and all we are’ comes from God. Our end goal is to achieve something great rather than to be great. Every one of us has value, as a Child of God, without regard to worldly performance or the opinion of others. We must keep our ego in check.

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