The collective ego is like a set of peacock feathers. When you speak to one “eye,” you speak to them all.

When we think of the concept of ego, we usually think of the individual. By now, we know the importance of managing individual egos and giving them a soft landing. Individual egos can be complex, but when you put them together as a group, the effects and the consequences multiply, and even take on a life of their own. And if mishandled, you, the leader, will begin to experience what I call the collective ego problem, or “The Peacock Effect”

Picture the collective ego as the feathers on a peacock. Your team—the peacock—can be influenced through two primary pathways: each individual “eye” on its feathers, or as a whole. Each eye has an ego. But the collection of those eyes forms one larger, collective ego that you must learn to manage.

When working with an individual ego on your team, your impact has a direct 1:1 effect, where both you and your subordinate can often quickly come to an understanding. You’re able to give specific feedback, make individualized recommendations, and you can put them in a better position to succeed. Despite the complexity of ego, this dynamic seems straightforward. But the reality of a team is that each “eye” on the peacock feeds off of the surrounding eyes. Your message begins to flow through the group, bouncing, reflecting, permeating, and multiplying.

You quickly learn that what you say to one eventually becomes a message to all. Everything you say as a leader eventually reaches a point of excess. And everything in excess eventually becomes the opposite of what you intended. Praise the individual or collective ego too much, and they become arrogant, complacent, and begin to lose focus. Criticize the individual or the collective ego too much, and you’ll eventually have a revolt on your hands. For these reasons, it’s important that you become measured, calculated, and thoughtful in your speech.

Remember, your job may involve managing egos, but your biggest job is to handle the collective ego. Mishandle one “eye,” one feather, and it will be awfully difficult to manage the entire peacock. In the following essays, we will explore the profound impacts of “The Peacock Effect.”

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