How Ego Hinders Effective Crisis Response

What hinders leaders from confronting a crisis?

When a complicated mess threatens to topple years (maybe decades) of hard work, what keeps leaders from rolling up their sleeves and tackling the problem head-on?

Most of us have seen and/or felt the consequences of poor crisis response led by less-than-stellar leaders. 

For example…

When a high-impact leader is caught in a scandal…  and the organization does its best to silence the accusations. 

When a data breach threatens the privacy of thousands…  and leaders downplay their responsibility. 

When an oil spill or other disaster threatens the environment and livelihood of an entire region… and companies are caught hiding the evidence. 

Or when a global pandemic demands swift action and clear communication… and people die while world leaders hesitate.

The world is not short of examples of failed crisis management. As we continue to experience case after case, many of us are left wondering why it seems so hard for so many leaders to deal with — and effectively lead through — change, challenge, and crisis.

The Five Crisis Ready® Hindrances

In my years teaching organizations and leaders how to prepare for crises, I’ve encountered a lot of resistance from my clients’ team members who aren’t sold on the need to be Crisis Ready. 

In fact, gaining buy-in and support for this initiative is one of the most common, most universal challenges faced by anyone advocating for this need. Even within the most Crisis Ready organizations, continuing to gain support and investment year after year is a challenge.

Why is that?

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself this question and throughout my career, I’ve identified five elements that get in the way of a leader or an organization’s willingness to invest in their Crisis Ready mindset, skillset, and capabilities. I call these the Five Crisis Ready® Hindrances: avoidance, ego, fear, ignorance, and politics

How do Crisis Ready Hindrances affect us?

First, let’s begin by defining what I mean by “hindrance.” Avoidance, ego, fear, ignorance, and politics are natural human traits and tendencies that get in the way of doing what’s needed for truly effective crisis management and, ultimately, create more Crisis Response Penalties (CRP).

Each of the Hindrances impedes us in different ways…

Avoidance: Prevents a person from looking at the truths of a problem in order to get ahead of it.

Ego: Holds us back from and blocks true connection, compassion, and empathy.

Fear: Activates the “flight” or “freeze” modes within us, which can create distrust (of the self and of others) and lead to avoidance and/or perpetuate more fear.

Ignorance: Prevents someone from taking the right actions due to a lack of knowledge or understanding. 

Politics: Prevents one from doing “what’s right” in order to serve an ulterior agenda.

Over time, we will discuss each Hindrance. This article will begin exploring how ego can hinder leaders during a crisis.

What is ego?

The word “ego” often carries a negative connotation, almost as a synonym for arrogance — which, don’t get me wrong, arrogance comes from ego! HOWEVER, when discussing or referring to the Hindrances, ego is never meant to carry a negative or judgemental connotation. We’re going to use the word more broadly. 

The teachings of Sigmund Freud introduced the word “ego” into our popular vocabulary, and Freud himself meant for the concept to carry more complexity than an over-inflated sense of importance. 

In its simplest form, ego is the “I” of our individuality. It is our self identity. 

Merriam Webster defines ego as “the self especially as contrasted with another self or the world.” The word comes straight from Latin, where it simply means “I.”

Why do we need ego?

Close your eyes for a moment and think of all the things that make you the individual that you are. All the wonderful traits, all your preferences and dislikes. Even all your insecurities, strengths, and flaws (because let’s face it, we all have ‘em!).

All of these aspects of the self is what I’m referring to when I say “ego.” 

Therefore, ego is what sets the individual apart from the collective. Said again, ego gives us our sense of self and identity. 

That individuality is important. It gives us freedom of choice and a unique voice within a community. 

We wouldn’t be human without an ego. 

Aside from its role in self-definition, ego can help drive our ambition, our motivation, and our self-confidence. When not hindering us, ego can create a willingness to act in the face of fear, stress, or challenge. It’s often the force that propels us forward. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with ego. 

In fact, successful leaders rely on a strong ego. It takes a powerful ego to stand out from the crowd and lead the group in a new direction. Albeit, there is a difference between a loud ego and a quiet ego, but we’ll save that for another day.

When does ego become a Hindrance?

Ego becomes a Hindrance when, in an attempt to keep us “safe,” it holds us back. It holds us back from personal growth and holds us back from creating meaningful connections with others. 

Here’s the thing: while in some instances the ego propels us forward, the ego also doesn’t like to be challenged. It likes to feel safe and in control. 

You know that uncomfortable feeling that comes from making a mistake, leaving your comfort zone, or being told your perspective is wrong? That feeling is your ego kicking in to protect you and keep you where it feels safe. 

It’s saving you from feeling vulnerable, fallible or inadequate. It’s protecting you from failure, loss and change. 

However, oftentimes, the ego confuses feeling safe with feeling comfortable. That’s when ego becomes a Hindrance.

For example, learning something new can feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean that doing so leaves you physically or emotionally unsafe.

Leaning into vulnerability and sharing your emotions with a close friend or a significant other can feel extremely uncomfortable. But it doesn’t mean that you are physically or emotionally unsafe

Meanwhile, how often do people shy away from trying something new or leaning into their vulnerability to create authentic, deep, emotional connections?


So, when left in charge, ego, with all of its good intentions, becomes a Hindrance. By wanting to keep us safe, it keeps us captive within our comfort zones. It creates emotional walls that keep us from meaningful, authentic connection. 

Now, consider how this can present Crisis Response Penalties (CRP) in times of crisis. Effective crisis management requires leaders and communicators to leave their comfort zones to right wrongs and fix mistakes. Effective crisis communication requires leaning into vulnerability to connect meaningfully and emotionally with stakeholders. 

If you think back to the countless crisis management failures that we continuously see around the world, how many of those stem, at least in part, from ego acting as a Hindrance? 

My money is on A LOT!

How do we keep ego from becoming a Hindrance?

To begin, keeping our ego in check requires a good deal of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and self-compassion. 


The more self-aware you are, the better. Take time to understand what causes your ego to feel challenged and what happens when it does.

For example, in which types of circumstances does your ego step in to protect you? When does it try to keep you within its comfort zone? When might it put up its walls to keep you emotionally “safe”? How do these things manifest and feel within your body? 

From there, what is your response pattern? Do you react by lashing out, retreating inwardly, puffing up and becoming loud, getting defensive, creating emotional walls that keep you feeling safe, or something else?

The better you can teach yourself to recognize the triggers as they happen within your body, the better you’ll be able to remain in the driver’s seat of your own actions and keep the self-protectiveness of your ego in the backseat, rather than blindly allowing it to take the wheel.

Emotional intelligence

Learning to identify, understand, and communicate effectively through emotions is one of the hardest aspects of maintaining strong and healthy relationships. It’s also essential for crisis communication and leadership. 

We dive deep into understanding emotion and communicating through it in a way that resonates, in our Crisis Ready Course on Honing Your Crisis Communication and Leadership Skills


Because ego is an inherent part of being human, keeping it working for us and not against us is a life-long endeavor. This means that sometimes you’ll get it right. And other times you’ll realize — maybe later than you would have preferred — that your ego has been in the driver’s seat. 

Having grace with yourself in those moments is important. You’re human, and your ego is an innate part of that humanity. You won’t get it right every time. None of us do. 

While we’ll explore this topic further over time, in my experience, each of these three decisions — to be self-aware, emotionally intelligent, and practice self-care and self-compassion — are challenging practices in and of themselves. 

Start here, and you will be taking the first steps in leveraging the positive aspects of your ego, while not allowing it to hinder your capacity for strong and effective crisis communication and crisis leadership. 

Key takeaways

Ego, as an expression of our self-identity, is a necessary element of being human. While it offers a lot of benefits, it can also hinder our ability to grow and become vulnerable with others. 

As a leader, unchecked ego becomes one of the Five Crisis Ready® Hindrances. As a Hindrance, ego can threaten an organization and a community and can cause more Crisis Response Penalty. 

The good news is it’s possible to become aware of how ego affects us and leverage it for its benefits, while keeping its Hindering traits at-bay. This skill begins with self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and self-care. 

To hone your crisis communication skills as you become more aware of your ego, enroll in our crisis communication program

Your turn!

How has ego presented a Hindrance to you and what are some of the ways that you’ve managed to override or overcome it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

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    • Recognized globally as an expert, thought-leader and visionary in the field of crisis management.
    • Has worked with global players, including NATO, the Pentagon (DoD), Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, financial firms, technology companies, healthcare organizations, cities and municipalities, law enforcement agencies, aviation organizations, global non-profits, etc.
    • Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World—ranked amongst the leading crisis management books of all time and named as one of the top ten business books of 2018 by Forbes.
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    • Visiting scholar at D’Youville University, where she co-created and co-teaches a Crisis Ready Program for young college students.
    • Sits on Police Professional Standards, Ethics and Image Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
    • Global Advisor for The Institute for Strategic Risk Management (ISRM), a global player established to help progress and promote the underlying understanding and capabilities associated with strategic risk and crisis management on a global scale.
    • Leading international keynote speaker on the subject and TEDx alumna.
    • Founder of the Crisis Ready® Community.

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    Licy Do Canto

    Licy Do Canto, is a veteran of public policy, corporate strategy, health care communications and diversity and inclusion, is managing director of APCO Worldwide’s Washington D.C. office headquarters and mid-Atlantic region lead. Licy is also a Global Advisory Council (GAC) member here at the Crisis Ready Institute and a highly recognized African-American public affairs, lobbyist and communications strategist— recognized by TheHill newspaper for the 11th consecutive year as one of the most influential leaders in Washington, DC.

    As Executive Vice President and Managing Director in the BCW Public Affairs and Crisis practice, Licy drives healthcare and social impact policy and strategy, and helps shape strategic direction on diversity, inclusion and belonging for the firm and its clients across North America, in public and corporate affairs, government relations, communications, crisis and reputation management. Licy also leads the BCW Healthcare Team in Washington, D.C.

    An expert in public affairs, policy and diversity and inclusion, with over twenty five years of experience at the international, national, state and local levels across the nonprofit, philanthropic, corporate and government sectors, Licy is an accomplished, values-driven leader with unparalleled experience in developing and leading integrated public affairs campaigns combining strategic communications, public relations, political/legislative initiatives, policy, coalition building, grassroots efforts and advocacy.

    Before joining BCW, Licy built and lead a nationally recognized minority owned strategic public affairs and communications firm, served as Health Practice Chair and Principal at The Raben Group, was the Chief Executive Officer of The AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth and Families, and managed and helped set the leadership direction for strategic policy, communications, and advocacy investments in executive and senior government affairs roles for the American Cancer Society and the nation’s Community Health Centers.

    Before joining the private sector, Licy was domestic policy advisor to U.S. Congressman Barney Frank and served in several capacities in the Office of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. During his extensive tenure in Washington, D.C., Licy has played a leading role in efforts to draft, shape and enact legislation and policy to improve the public health, health care safety net and the lives, livelihoods and well-being of the nation’s disadvantaged and underserved communities. 

    Licy also has worked with Moet Hennessey to drive diversity and inclusion on Wall Street and corporate America. He has partnered with Vice President Al Gore, senior government officials, scientists, NGOs and activists, on global climate change impact and sustainability across Africa. And he was appointed by Republican and Democrat governors to oversee the conservation, preservation and management of a prominent U.S. national historic landmark.

    Licy is a graduate of Duke University and holds a certificate in public health leadership in epidemic preparedness and management from the University of North Chapel Hill—School of Public Health and Kenan Flagler Business School, and is the recipient of multiple industry awards and citations for his leadership, policy and public affairs acumen, including being named to The Hill Newspaper list of most influential  leaders in Washington, D.C. consecutively over the last ten years. As a global citizen, Licy has lived in Turkey and Spain, and is fluent in Spanish and Cape Verdean Portuguese.

    Melissa Agnes

    Recognized globally as an expert, thought leader and visionary in the field of crisis management, Melissa Agnes has worked with global players, including NATO, the Pentagon (DoD), Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, financial firms, technology companies, healthcare organizations, cities and municipalities, law enforcement agencies, aviation organizations, global non-profits, and many others.

    In 2020, Melissa founded Crisis Ready Institute, a public benefit corporate dedicated to creating a crisis ready, crisis-resilient world by elevating industry standards; providing training and certification programs to professionals that better protect people, brands, the environment, and the economy in times of crisis; and promoting and incentivizing organizations and leaders to invest in effective crisis readiness.

    Her book, Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, is taught in dozens of universities around the world, including at Harvard University; is ranked amongst the leading crisis management books of all time, by Book Authority; and was named one of the top ten business books of 2018 by Forbes.

    Melissa is the creator of the Crisis Ready® Model, which is recognized and being taught as leading industry best practice in the fields of crisis management and crisis communication.

    As an in-demand international keynote speaker and a TEDx alumna, Melissa has traveled the world helping organizations and leaders further strengthen their crisis ready mindset, skills and capabilities.

    In 2019, Melissa founded the Crisis Ready® Community, a space for professionals to come together to support one another, collaborate and strengthen their crisis ready skills.

    Melissa sits on the Board of Trustees for D'Youville University, a private University in New York, where she also serves as a visiting scholar for the course she co-created and co-teaches on Crisis Leadership.

    Melissa also sits on the Board of Directors for ZeroNow, a non-profit organization committed to ending harmful events in schools.

    Passionate about serving law enforcement and bridging the trust divide between agencies and the communities they serve, Melissa is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). In 2021 she co-chaired a committee that was tasked with developing a strategy and plan of action to begin managing and overcoming the trust crisis in the U.S.

    In 2019 and 2020, Melissa sat on the panel tasked with developing the International Standard for Crisis Management— ISO 22361, Guidelines for developing a strategic capability.

    Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), Melissa currently lives in New York City and enjoys traveling, rollerblading, sailing, and working out when she isn’t working.

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    Erick Anez is the Global Head of Business Resilience at Finastra. Erick is a proven leader with well over a decade of experience leading change and transformation in the Operational Resilience field.

    His hands-on approach focuses on operational learning, culture, and reputational management. Erick holds a Bachelor of Emergency & Homeland Security, Graduate studies in Security and Disaster Management, is a Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP), Certified Risk Management Professional (CRMP), graduate of the FEMA institute in Incident Management and Command, and is a respected member of Public-Private partnerships within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and  the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

    Some of his most notable achievements in the field include leading the private sector response to Hurricane Maria as well as working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Continuity of Operations (CCOP) projects for mission-critical facilities in the United States. Erick has also trained with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Infectious Disease Planning and community response, including Point of Dispensing initiatives.

    From 2016 to 2019, Erick held several roles at Crowley and, most recently, was the company’s Managing Director of Safety & Resilience. During this time, he was responsible for resilience operations supporting all business segments as well as leading the organization’s safety culture improvement journey. At Crowley, he led the Occupational Health & Safety, Business Continuity, and Crisis Management teams.

    Before joining Crowley, Erick held similar roles at Southwest Gas and Third Federal Savings & Loan.

    Aaron Marks

    Founder and Principal, One Thirty Nine Consulting
    Global Advisory Council Member, Crisis Ready® Institute

    Aaron Marks is the founder and principal of One Thirty Nine Consulting, providing services for small and large businesses in Risk, Crisis, and Consequence Management.

    Supporting both domestic and international clients, he provides operational and subject matter expertise in readiness and preparedness, crisis and incident management, and business and operational continuity for complex systems and organizations.

    Aaron has provided in-depth review, assessment, and analysis for technology, policy, and operational programs for clients in healthcare, critical manufacturing, and entertainment and hospitality, as well as for state, local, tribal, territorial, and federal governments in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. He is a recognized authority on the application of nontraditional techniques and methodologies to meet the unique requirements of training, evaluation, and analytic games and exercise.

    Prior to entering the readiness and preparedness field, Aaron was the Director of Operations for a commercial ambulance and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provider in western New York State where he participated in the integration of commercial EMS and medical transportation resources into the local Trauma System.

    During his 30-year career, Aaron has worked in almost every aspect of EMS except fleet services. This includes experience in Hazardous Materials and Tactical Medicine, provision of prehospital care in urban, suburban, rural, and frontier environments, and acting as a team leader for both ground and aeromedical Critical Care Transport Teams.

    Aaron is a FEMA Master Exercise Practitioner and received a B.A. in Psychology from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and a master’s degree in Public Administration with a focus in Emergency Management from Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. He is also a Nationally Registered Paramedic and currently practices as an Assistant Chief with the Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Amissville Virginia.

    Chris Hsiung

    Chris is the 11th Police Chief of the Mountain View Police Department, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. For more than 25 years, he has served the Mountain View community, and as the department’s leader, is passionate about maintaining MVPD’s role as a progressive law enforcement organization in the 21st century.

    Chris is an internationally recognized speaker and columnist on the areas of crisis communications, critical incident management, leadership, and engagement with stakeholder groups. In his time with Mountain View PD, Chris has held a variety of investigative, tactical, and leadership roles, serving in every division in the organization. He is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Senior Executives in State and Local Government program and has a master’s degree in eBusiness Management from Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, CA.

    Chris also serves in several leadership positions on multiple boards, including as president on the Government Social Media Leadership Council and committee member on the IACP's Professional Standards, Ethics, and Image Committee. Previously, Chris served as a board member for the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center and two terms as a commissioner on the City of San Mateo Community Relations Commission.

    You can connect with him on Twitter @Chief_Hsiung or LinkedIn.

    Ashley Davis

    Ashley is a Brand and Marketing Strategist who partners with CEOs, executives and solopreneurs to grow their personal and professional brands. After spending over a decade working in strategic communications for multimillion dollar brands and startups, Ashley knows what truly drives conversations, builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their stakeholder groups and attracts strong strategic partnerships.

    Ashley has helped organizations and leaders increase employee awareness and overall understanding of the company vision. She has strong experience / knowledge of social media tools and techniques for driving awareness, reputation and brand—and is known for advancing a company's messaging in the marketplace by growing the following of now multiple multimillion dollar brands and startups.

    Ashley has served as the Editor of monthly all employee publications by managing the planning, writing and production. She is an integral part of new product launches and is frequently engaged to train entire sales teams along with channel / distribution partners on new product launches. In addition to her extensive experience, Ashley is a trained business coach.

    Ashley holds a BA in Global Business Management from the University of Phoenix.

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