This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the island fortress of Corregidor. I’ve always been a history buff, and the stories from the Pacific campaigns in WWII are particularly interesting. Corregidor was known for being the island that the allied forces commanded by Douglas MacArthur retired to when the Japanese invaded the Philippines and Manila was declared an ‘open city.’
General MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines three times by President Roosevelt. He didn’t want to go, but finally relented, making the well-known promise to the Filipino people, “I shall return.”
There’s a business lesson we can learn from this story. It’s really one of ego – Douglas MacArthur was well-known to have a sizeable ego, as do many business executives. There’s nothing wrong with that, as it can be a driving force and can compel people to perform at a higher level simply to satisfy their own sense of well-being.
There’s really two types of ego, though. The first type can be difficult to deal with, can act unpredictably or very selfishly. That’s unproductive and leads to poor morale.
General MacArthur’s ego was of the other type. He had given his word to the Filipino people, and he felt very strongly that his word – and by extension that of the USA – must be kept. That to break that promise would cause more and worse problems for the war effort. So when the plans to begin a major offensive in the Pacific skipped over the Philippine Islands, General MacArthur put forth compelling arguments that liberating the Filipino people was critical and in the end he won the day.
Even now, the people of the Philippines honor and respect Douglas MacArthur for keeping his word. While it’s very true that he had a big ego, his actions show he followed through on his word so he clearly could live up to that higher standard.
So for all of us as managers, there’s nothing wrong with having a big ego, so long as you can live up – really live up – to the standards you’re setting for yourself.