Why having a big ego isn't always a bad thing: Executive coach Liz Bentley

If put to good use, a big ego can “give us the ability to push and do things we’re scared of,” Bentley said.
Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs.
Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs.Miller Hawkins

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By Halley Bondy

As an executive career coach, Liz Bentley has seen her fair share of big egos. But according to Bentley, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Ego is our greatest strength and our greatest weakness,” she told Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski in an interview. “It can propel us up, and sabotage us all the way down.”

Ego is defined as a person’s sense of self-importance. Sometimes, an ego can be useful. Bentley told Brzezinski that ego can be responsible for giving people confidence in challenging situations.

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“It gives us the ability to push and do things we’re scared of,” Bentley said.

One study found that healthy doses of ego directly feed into your willpower, which means, it might help you stick to a diet or focus on a major project, for example. An ego can also help you stay resilient when things go wrong, according to Bentley. When deployed properly, an ego can also help us grow.

“The other thing the ego does for us is give us vulnerability and allows us to say ‘I’m sorry, it’s my fault,’” said Bentley. “It allows us to get into something and say ‘I’m scared. I’m fearful. I don’t know if I have all the right information. I think I need to learn more’ and all those things that allow us to be vulnerable in order to grow.”

An unhealthy ego, however, can turn into arrogance, Bentley said.

“We like when people are confident, we don’t like when people are arrogant, male or female,” said Bentley. “Arrogance can be a problem for men and women, but men get away with it a lot more than when do.”

While the ego can yield positive results, an unhealthy ego can thrust all of that positivity into reverse. One study found that over-exerting your ego can lead to exhaustion, and therefore it can deplete your willpower to stick to healthy habits. Instead of vulnerability, people with unhealthy egos experience fear and defensiveness.

“The ego works against us is when it pushes us into fear and scarcity,” said Bentley. “When it pushes us into fear and scarcity, we do things that are bad for ourselves and for everyone else. That’s where we lack resilience. It shuts down vulnerability.”

Bentley tells her clients to watch out for unhealthy ego behavior, such as blaming other people or acting superior to everyone.

“I point out when their ego is sabotaging them,” Bentley said. “So when I see them shutting down their vulnerability...all of that is coming from fear. That’s when we help them go into the inside and find out what’s really going on.”