Monday, December 17, 2012

Ego - The Center of the Talent Triangle

If you read the previous post entitled "The Talent Triangle", you saw this diagram:

We explored the importance and relevance of Capability, Values, and Motivations already.  So what happens when you find the "perfect" candidate according to those criteria and then they fail, or "bomb out"?  In many cases it is because there was a specific, intangible quality that invalidated the feedback on the three other categories.  That quality has been specifically researched and is referred to by several names including the technical (SCTi-MAP assessment) and the more simplistic "Ego assessment".

In my experience, ego is a modifier that can come in three varieties:
  • Negative - the ego becomes a limiting factor on the performance of the individual across all three areas
  • Neutral - the ego is aligned adequately to the role and thus has no great modifying effect
  • Positive - the ego of the individual elevates the performance of the individual, often manifesting as a higher perceived level of Capability than is truly there

There are so many historical examples of people that fit into each category that it isn't worth filling this post with them.  There are even some few rare examples of heroic historical and (possibly) fictional beings possessing both positive and negative modifiers at the same time - Alexander the Great and Achilles being several such.

The work on assessing the level of ego development was greatly advanced by a brilliant Harvard-educated psychologist named Susanne Cook-Greuter (  While I won't try to explain exactly how it works, her test does an excellent job of placing people on a spectrum that ranges from one to six.  In general, most people fall in the middle of a bell curve, somewhere between a level two (diplomat) and a low level four (achiever).  The best take away is that people in the 2-3 range tend to view the world from a 2nd-person perspective.  Consequently, they are more apt to enter into "win-lose" situations.  People at a level 4 or higher begin to view the world and their interactions from a 3rd, 4th, and even 5th-person perspective.  In other words, they can see better how the ramifications of their actions play out across society through time.  These types of people are more likely to consistently generate "win-win" situations.

(I'll insert a quick apology at this point to Dr. Cook-Greuter and Beena Sharma for trying to simplify such a complex subject.)

There is no one perfect level, nor are higher levels necessarily better than lower levels.  It all depends on the role.  You wouldn't want a heart surgeon to be thinking much beyond a 2nd person perspective when they have you on the operating room table.  But conversely, you'd want your CEO to be considering multiple, long-term perspectives when crafting strategies that affect hundreds, or thousands of people over a twenty year time span.  In other words, you'd hope that your CEO could operate at level four (Achiever/Individualist) or level five (Individualist/Strategist).  I've combed the web to find some examples that might further give context on what these levels mean.  Check out this blog:

Consequently you could also go through the assessment yourself on Cook-Greuter's website; your choice.  Below is an example of how your results might be assessed and mapped.  This particular graphic shows the results of a late stage Individualist/early Strategist.

Be careful not to overlook the maturity of ego when selecting a candidate.  If you just look at Capability, Values, or Motivation, who you think is the next Peyton Manning may indeed be the next JaMarcus Russell. (

I will end this post with a diagram that links ego development with how a person's outlook can vary depending on their relative level.  The colors represented link to a book called "Spiral Dynamics" by Beck and Cowan (  Advanced but still very fascinating information.  If you can master the Talent Triangle, you will be well on your way to becoming a Level 5 leader.

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