Kanye West Harassing the Disabled: What We Can Learn About the Dangers of Ego in Your Career

Kanye West is no stranger to controversy, and he once again made news at a recent show in Sydney, Australia. Stopping the performance to ask for crowd participation, West got his fans to boo those who were non-compliant and sent security around to check that two seated audience members were, in fact, disabled and unable to stand. The rapper likely thought this was all in good fun, but once word got out, he was heavily criticized for what was seen as bullying and discrimination.

The Ego Has Landed

Rather than intentional discrimination, this is one more example of West’s overinflated ego. Convinced of his own power and importance, it never occurred to him to inspire people to stand with a great performance and be humble enough not to question those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, rise to their feet. Instead, like a drill sergeant who expects no resistance, he merely demanded everyone stand and appreciate his awesomeness.

Once someone achieves "celebrity" status, he may be able to get away with gaffes like this, but eventually it can crash his career with too much negative publicity. Those who work outside the spotlight will find that an unchecked ego can harm their job prospects much more quickly, and even ruin an entire company they’ve worked hard to build.

Confidence Vs. Ego

Being confident in your abilities is a positive trait that helps you take on new, more challenging responsibilities and move forward in your career. It becomes a problem when that confidence transitions to an idea that you can do no wrong, that everyone else in the organization is incompetent, and coworkers should just bow down to your every whim. Team-building consultant Sean Glaze labels these two sides of the coin as "Destructive Arrogance" versus "Constructive Confidence."

One of those destructive traits is to spend more time talking and bragging, instead of listening and understanding. If Kanye had spent less time ordering his audience around and instead learned which songs and performance styles got the crowd moving, he could have found a way to improve his show and get good reviews, rather than negative press.

At your own job, rather than forcing employees to participate in programs or policies they seem resistant to, listen to their objections. Collaborate to find a solution that is best for the company and those that work for it. Employees that feel helpless, diminished, and ignored will not do their best work, and will often leave to find somewhere they are more appreciated.

Power Trip

Workers may think that if they’re not a CEO, they’re not in danger of getting power hungry. But that sense of control can strike at any level. After a few years at my first full-time job, the workload justified the hiring of a student assistant for me. It was immediately gratifying to have someone I could send to do any task, which began to include anything I didn’t feel like doing. Seconds after I sent him to our work’s mail room with my personal utility bills and a handful of change, I realized I’d gone too far. I was not Kanye and this was not my P.A.

Like a performer on stage, part of a leader’s job is to inspire her workers. If a restaurant manager starts cleaning tables during a busy lunch hour, rather than considering it beneath her to help out, her workers will feel more motivated to do that job. Being a boss means more responsibility, not less. Even if you now have a secretary to answer the phone, it doesn’t mean you should let it go to voice mail when she’s busy, and potentially anger clients. And unless they were hired specifically to do such tasks, don’t make your employees do work for your personal life, like sending out your bills, picking up your dry-cleaning, or ordering flowers for your wife. Don’t let your feelings of power turn into feelings of royal privilege, letting your business fall apart and causing resentment amongst your employees.

Working as a Team

A successful business thrives when everyone has input and the employees’ collective knowledge and strengths are used to their full advantage. No one person can know everything, but individuals can often fall into the trap that makes them think they do. Hopefully someone on West’s team will tell him that harassing disabled people at his shows is not the best course of action, but will he listen?

Psychology Today points out that humility is often described in terms of weakness, when it should focus more on knowing one’s limitations and on collaboration. Humility is "the strength of admitting you’re not always right, the knowledge that you are not God and that other people have something to teach you." You don’t always have to follow everyone’s advice, but it is important to keep listening. Confidence and collaboration can work together for success.


Photo by: Diego Quintana, Wikimedia Commons.