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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.           Vol. 32, No. 3 * February 21, 2000

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‘Ego Suction’

This is a call for federal funding (of course) to develop what could be one of the most important health and public administration breakthroughs in the modern era — an "ego suction" procedure.

We all have egos. They help determine our personalities and help us focus on our goals. On the other hand, public administrators regularly encounter employees who seem to suffer from an ego overdose. Symptoms include the demand for personal recognition, praise and attention to excess, often characterized by the nearly constant use of the pronoun "I" or words such as "my" or "mine."

They will be quick to remind others of their value and the great agony that would result in the organization if they were not on the job. Very often employees in need of an ego suction are very bright, very hard working, and in fact, do contribute a great deal. However, their approach lacks perspective, and in the long run, harms themselves and the organization.

The lack of perspective means they will be less likely to be part of an effective team, which requires replacing a "personally centered" view of life and work with one focusing on group contributions and "another centered" perspective.

When ego overdose is an acute problem among the top leaders in an organization including elected officials, executives and supervisors, the results can be catastrophic for an agency. The excessive focus on a personal quest for power and recognition can distort relationships and contribute to unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace violence.

Are there treatments? Most often there are. They begin, however, with the individual’s first-line supervisor and manager recognizing the problem and thoughtfully, but clearly, making sure the employee is aware that these ego overdose traits are noticed and are contributing to specific behavior or performance weaknesses.

This can also be combined with an Employee Assistance Program referral for counseling. Encouraging the employee to select or confide in another employee as a mentor can also be of great help.

In many cases these treatments will work effectively. However in others, the cases are so advanced that more radical therapies are necessary. These may include taking steps to ensure that the person is not in a position to have sole possession of critical organizational information or processes.

If there is a key promotion available, the ego infection, in terms of how it actually manifests itself in the workplace, may be a factor in the decision not to promote the employee who is not responding to coaching and corrective action planning. However, even these approaches will not work in every case. We do not yet have the administrative skills or treatments for a sure cure.

Perhaps a very sizeable federal block grant should be made available to local governments to develop ego suction procedures or vaccines to add a dose of caring, humility and respect to balance an ego overdose. Sadly, even if an ego suction procedure is developed, there are many elected and appointed officials who would refuse to believe they have a problem and refuse treatment. Besides, HMOs probably would not cover the procedure anyway.

Please feel free to share your comments with me about any of the HR Doctor articles. "Visit" the HR Doctor on the Web at

Phil Rosenberg,
The HR Doctor

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)


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