Why Big Egos are Toxic to Leadership

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I’m reading a fascinating book called Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. While we all know the human psyche is equipped with an ego, not all of us keep our own ego in check.

The ego is that part of our identity that allows us to be self-aware. This self-awareness is supposed to help us find a balance between our base, primal urges and our more evolved moral and idealistic standards. In a perfect world, our ego would help us to NOT become an overbearing egomaniac. Oh the irony.

I like holiday’s definition of ego:

“The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition… It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utilitythats ego. Its the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.

I don’t know about you, but this description fits A LOT of leaders I’ve had the displeasure of working with/under. Egomaniacs tend to be out of touch with reality, feel entitled, create unrealistic expectations, and are almost addicted to outside validation. They’re so busy taking care of themselves they don’t have much time to lead!

Unpacking Leadership EGO

Okay, linguistically-speaking, yes, there is an “I” in the word leadership, but there shouldn’t be. How does this big ol’ I, I, I, me, me, me attitude even show up? I think so many people strive to climb that ladder and become an important title (CEO, President, Chairwoman.) that they lose all sight to what the point was for their climb.

Have you ever taken the time to unpack your leadership EGO?

Some very good, qualified and caring individuals can start out with the best of leadership intentions and yet STILL end up with an ego the size of Texas. We’re human, and even when we are trying to do good, we can often screw things up.

That’s why it’s important to check yourself and your ego every once in a while. To unpack your leadership EGO, ask yourself the following questions (and BE HONEST!!):

1.    How does your EGO show up in your role?

2.    How would you rate your level of humility on a scale of 1-10?

3.    Do you feel you have room to grow as a leader?

4.    How would your employees rate your ability to listen and collaborate?

5.    Would your employees say you are able to be vulnerable?

6.    Do you seek accolades and want everyone to know your results?

7.    Do people see you the same way you see yourself?

8.    Do you bully others into doing things the way you want?

9.    Do you care about your employees?

10. Are you open to learning?

11. How do you empower others?

12. Do others understand your Why?

13. Are other inspired by your Why?

Beyond asking yourself questions, invite team members to give you feedback on your leaderships skills. A real leader wants to hear from the people they are leading.

Leaders aren’t perfect. The point of leadership isn’t about inspiring others to see your greatness, it’s about inspiring greatness in others.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

The Cycle of Supervision Oppression

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Most people leave positions because of their supervisors. A Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers concluded that the number 1 reason people quit their job is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.

Now, I know a lot has been written about bad bosses and the different types of tyrannical supervisors, but this week’s blog post is not about that. It’s about the psychological games that are sometimes played as a result of an unhealthy ego and the need for hierarchy to be the common dominator in nurturing healthy relationships.

I am hearing more and more from clients and colleagues that they are feeling burnt out from having to continuously deal with an egomaniacal supervisor who seems hellbent on destroying the morale and passion of the entire team.  These clients and colleagues are having to pick themselves up every day and figure out how to make it through another week, month and semester because they need the money to pay bills. Yes, they care about the work and students, but the work environment is often unsafe, oppressive and mentally unhealthy.

Supervision = POWER for many supervisors. I’m the one in control. But why are you using force to control others?

Common uses of unhealthy supervision approach:

  1. Changing the rules of the game.
  2. Sending the message that it is a game.
  3. Getting defensive and angry when your employees challenge you.
  4. Telling your employees they are there to make you look good.
  5. Feeling threatened by good employees.
  6. Using the phrase, “Because I said so.”
  7. Not listening.
  8. Using the phrase, “If you don’t like it you can leave.”
  9. Talking badly behind your employees’ back to the upper administration.
  10. Not creating a path for your employees to shine, grow and move up.
  11. Never making your employees professional growth a priority.
  12. Breaking promises.
  13. Acting like you know it all and that your employees are dispensable.
  14. Not seeing your employees as people, but just as workers.

 Supervision as POWER

·      Causes Pain

·      Uses Oppression to control others

·      Weakens the team

·      Uses the Ego to guide decision-making

·      Often makes Rash decisions aimed at making the supervisor  stand out

What is Your Why?

Supervising others is a privilege and comes with a great responsibility. Supervision is not about power, it’s about being in a position to support and inspire those who report to you so they can grow and become possible leaders themselves.

Have you asked yourself what your why is? What is the why to the area you overseeing? Not the people but the area. Are you clear on that why?

Are you clear on why you want to be a supervisor? What is your purpose and why do you believe this to be?

Are you in the role because it is part of your climb in the hierarchy ladder of leadership? How many people will you have mistreated when you get to the top?

The harm of a “bad” supervisor can leave a lasting negative impact on someone. The relationship of manager/employee is one you are in for 8hrs a day, 5 days a week, 40 hours a week. Understand this amount of time can cause your negativity to seep into a valuable employee’s psyche and have them question if they are enough.

Great leaders do not oppress their employees. They inspire them to become the best versions of themselves they can be.

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’

~ Lao Tzu

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

The F word – No, Not That One

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“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom


Just hearing the word can send a shiver down most people’s backs. We all want to avoid fear and spend much of our lives doing whatever necessary to ensure we never face it. But this is generally a recipe for disaster.

Having to have difficult conversations with staff members can cause leaders to feel a lot of fear. In fact, letting go of a staff member is probably the most difficult of supervisor responsibilities.

I remember the first time I had to let a resident go due to poor grades when I was a Resident Director. I felt so nervous to engage in the conversation with this staff member. My inner dialogue didn’t help as it had its own story going on: “Where would this student live? How will they eat? How will they pay for housing? How are they going to take the news? How do I do this quickly? What if they get upset? and on and on…

Twenty plus years later, letting go, professional staff, has not gotten one bit easier. But let me share with you the lessons I have learned about facing difficult challenges:

You’ve Got to Pay Close Attention

Your staff knows before you when this conversation needs to happen with a specific staff member, but many (most) won’t tell you what they see because they are afraid to get involved, and so you don’t have all the intel you need. You will have to step up your game when it comes to observing and paying attention to staff dynamics and output.

Listen to Your Gut

Sometimes your eyes won’t see it at first, but your gut will keep whispering to you to “pay attention… pay attention.” If you have a gut feeling that something is festering behind the scenes, listen to your gut and pay extra attention.

Get Help

Get Human Resources involved as soon as you realize there is a problem.

Document, Document, Document

You will need a record that shows the staff member as well as Human Resources that there is a history of a problem, which is why the person is being let go.

Do NOT Avoid

Don’t ignore the issue.  Trust me, things don’t get better when you pretend they aren’t happening. They are happening, so face your fears, be a leader, and handle the situation as best you can.

Don’t Let Your Heart Speak Louder Than Your Head

One challenge I have often faced is letting someone go who has a high level of passion for working with students but whose skill set is not what the department needs it to be.  Usually, there is an initial conversations about the lacking skills. The person often tries their hardest to obtain the skillset but often, despite all efforts, it’s still not enough.

The pain that I have seen on the faces of these staff members when they realize that today is their last day is heartbreaking. Leading up to that moment I still have the inner dialogue: “Will they be ok? Will they find another job? How will this impact their life?

Over the last 10 years, I have often been left with this question: What red flags did I miss during the interview process that led to these types of uncomfortable moments?

No leader is perfect. We get up each day with a renewed commitment to do better. In the interim, the lessons we learn along the way allow us to make better decisions that will positively impact our team and the student body.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Is Your Team Being Destroyed by These Four Things?

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I have been fascinated with how the dynamics of a team can change so quickly. One day you feel like everyone is working well together, on the same page, in sync, goal orientated and, most important, everyone’s work is guided by the desire to improve processes and services to help students succeed.

And then… poof … it all goes up in smoke, and suddenly you don’t recognize the people you are working with anymore. Negativity, jealousy, cynicism and gossip have infiltrated the team and destroyed the beautiful cohesion you worked so hard to achieve.

When this happens, you are left with two questions: What happened and how can I fix it?

Negativity, jealousy, cynicism and gossip are all team destroyers that feed off of each other. If not nipped in the bud quickly, this negativity can continue to fester. Naturally when this happens, everyone looks to leadership to fix the problem. But the reality is that it is impossible for leadership to fix things by themselves, and in reality, it is not their sole responsibility to do so.

The Impact of NJCG

Your first reaction may be to ignore that anything unseemly may be going on, but that is a HUGE mistake. NJCG can have a significant impact on team morale, focus, and success.

Negativity can quickly sap everyone’s energy, including leadership. With no energy, it is impossible to turn the ship around.

Jealousy creates negative relationships that are based on assumptions.

Cynicism prevents the team from thinking outside of the box, creative problem solving, and moving forward. It is also a huge drain on positivity.

Gossip always gets back to the person and hurts feelings and relationships, and sometimes, beyond repair.

So what is the solution?

Well, it’s about unpacking the issues, taking a harsh look at yourself and admitting the role you have played.

Tips to Get Your Team Back on Track

1. Trace the crumbs you missed along the way and didn’t act on. This new normal didn’t just happen overnight, it happened gradually and right in front of you.

2. Admit to yourself why you ignored the bread crumbs. Why didn’t you take action sooner?

3. Contact Human Resources and ask for their advice in developing an action plan.

4. Consult a trusted seasoned colleague. Trust me, at some point in their career they have learned that avoidance is a big mistake. If you won’t take my advice, take theirs.

5. Stop avoiding and have the tough conversations. Create a culture of open communication so individuals can have tough conversations with one another. Have the courage to make the difficult decisions (sometimes that means letting people go) so your individuals can heal and you can begin to rebuild your team.

6. Continue to learn, grow and increase your skillset in leadership and supervision.

How have you dealt with NJCG in the past? Did you ignore it or did you use certain techniques to nip it in the bud? Tell us in the comments. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

Landing a Job You Love – It’s Not Impossible

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Job searching in today’s climate is hard. If you are geographically-bound, it becomes even more challenging to land that dream job, or any job for that matter.

Moving beyond the defeat of not getting the job. This seems to be a theme of many of my clients lately. They keep applying, prepping for the job interview, interviewing and then… nothing happens. And they are left feeling defeated, hopeless, stuck, angry, wondering what went wrong, why didn’t they like me, why am I not good enough, etc.

I remember when I started my career in higher education and having a work history that included working in university housing served as a gateway to various positions in student affairs. What happened? When did it all change? Why is it so hard to obtain that next level position or the “dream job.”

How do you keep going when you keep hearing NO?!

Life is not for the faint of heart. Very few of us get through it without experiencing our fair share of disappointment, frustration and heartache.

When things get rough and you feel like giving up on landing that dream job, ask yourself a few important questions (jot down these answers):

·      Why are you applying for the specific job you are applying for?

·      Do you meet the qualifications? Or are you trying to stretch your experience and gain more skills?

·      Are you running from your current position? Or have you done everything you could do at the institution?

·      Have you written down your preferred work environment that would allow you to thrive?

Don’t ignore this exercise. Your list matters!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s like dating. You wouldn’t just date the first person you meet. You would have a list of characteristics your ideal mate would have. And the list gets longer after every failed relationship because you learned just a little bit more about what will and won’t cut it.

So, you should have a list for your job search. At the end of the day, you don’t want a career that you love. Just as you don’t want any ol’ partner, you want someone you can grow old with.

Have you ever been set up on a blind date and wondered what your friends were thinking? The moment you sat down across from the other person, you knew instantly that the date was going to be a long one and you would have to really fake it to make it look like you were interested.

This happens in interviews, too. You know right away whether or not this is the right job for you. So, your list matters.

Job hunting takes patience, but it’s okay to be picky. Don’t just apply to any ol’ job because you liked the title and the salary because if that’s why you are applying you may wind up with a job that seems impressive to your loved ones, but leaves you feeling bored and empty. And then you are like everyone else stuck in the rat race stuck in a job you hate for 8hrs a day, 40hrs a week, 180hrs a month and 2000hrs a year. That is a very long time to be bored and unfulfilled.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer

“Students First”

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When did this turn into “Students First” with quotes? Who decided that when we make decisions on the students’ behalf, we let the data guide what we do?

Do the students feel what we are doing is for them? Do they feel that they come first? Or, are we so busy trying to get them out the door in 4 years or 2 years (transfer students), they feel more like a piece of dry cleaning?

Yes, I know we have goals that we must make: enrollment, retention, persistence, graduation rates, strategic plan, external funding etc.… but we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, while we are focused on achieving our many markers of what we deem as success, how we can make our students feel that they come first. This has to go beyond just orientation and weeks of welcome, speaker series, concerts, games etc.

Does each division, department, and program have a strategic plan to make sure that students feel they come first? Do the services they receive, the messaging, the décor of the space, the interactions, and the ongoing programs meet their individual needs? Or are we just going to say the buzz words “students first”, “student centered”, “students matter” while taking the same old actions?

I recently did an informal survey and asked 50 students from various institutions to define “students first.” For the majority of them it’s simple: to feel that they matter for the entire time they are enrolled. Not just when the institution is trying to woo them and convince them that they are best institution during a tour or orientation. We get students in the door… we get their tuition money, and so the job is complete and we don’t have to work for them anymore? That bait and switch tactic leaves a majority of students feeling left out in the cold.

Here are my two cents: It takes only a few minutes to make students feel like they matter and an even shorter amount of time to make them feel like they don’t.

A few months ago a student found his way to my office after visiting five other offices where no one could answer his question. Well, I wasn’t the right office, but the student deserved better than being passed from one office to another so I picked up the phone and found the right person who had that answer. My colleague then came to my office to meet with the student. That student’s experience went from not feeling like he mattered to making him feel like his needs were a priority.

We need to do our best so students can do their best.

Debra Y. Griffith

Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College

Consultant | Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer




Promises, Promises, Promises

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I remember watching episodes of “Sex in the City” years ago and always wondering why Carrie, who was an intelligent, strong and independent woman, allowed herself to be played by Mr. Big? Sure he was attractive, fun and charismatic, but he just kept stringing her along. Carrie wanted a commitment, he wanted no strings attached.

I would think to myself, “I would never let that happen to me!”

But it’s not only in romantic relationships that we can be strung along.

Are You Stringing Along Your Employees?

Making promises (advancement, more responsibility, growth, development and salary) that will never come to fruition or that you’re sure you can never pull off is not a way to motivate or retain staff. The action is akin to Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown and then yanking it away just as he’s about to kick it. This fake promise approach to employee motivation and morale is a dangerous one and can often backfire, leaving the employee distrustful of you as a leader.

Advancementthe action of advancing the state of being advanced:

a: promotion or elevation to a higher rank or position b: progression to a higher stage of development.

Early on in my career I was promised advancement but I was asked to be patient. There weren’t a lot of details because things needed to be “put into place” before my advancement could happen.

So, like Carrie Bradshaw, I waited, and waited, and waited… and it NEVER HAPPENED. However, the promises went on for months.

And then one day I decided that I needed to STOP waiting and decide what I was in control of.  I promised myself after that experience that I would never let the Mr. Bigs or Lucys of the world trick me.

I also decided to never use this tactic with my own staff members. I believe in empowering and developing staff with the goal of advancing, whether that means within or outside of the organization.

An Alternative Approach

  • Ask the following questions:
    • What is the employees long term plan?
    • What do they hope their current position is a stepping stone towards?
    • What is in their control?
    • Who is their support network?
    • The WHY? Why are they are not working work towards their long-term plan?

Making false promises can cause your employees to lose faith in you as a leader. This often leaves them feeling very negative about their work environment and many times, they end up leaving for another institution or for another industry all together.

You are not responsible for advancing all of your employees. You are simply responsible for providing guidance and an honest and supportive environment where they can thrive.

Debra Y. Griffith 
Dean of Student Equity and Success at West Valley Community College 
Consultant|  Speaker | Coach |Strategist |Trainer