By Angela Kambouris
Ego is one of the biggest problems that humanity faces. Being egoless is not possible; however, you can keep yours in check to create business success.
When you are over-invested with your own self-worth, ego is running the show. Each person has beliefs and fears about their value, and when under stress, defensive or over-inflated behaviors play out. When on stage, leading an executive meeting or being a part of a mentorship relationship, your attention can be preoccupied by your view of yourself.
Each person has a set of criteria you unconsciously judge yourself against. When you measure up, you feel pride and like a leader. When you don’t, feelings of uncomfortableness, pressure or fear come out to play. Fight-flight behaviors are triggered, and reactionary behaviors will often result in misalignment of the true leader you are. Unhealthy dynamics take over your own leadership and team success.
Gargantuan egos still may create leaders who achieve phenomenal and impactful success. Kayne West holds a strong ego and has talent, strength and vision. Ego may be the driver to create success, but look at the costs. You see it being played out across the media — dysfunctional personal lives, infighting in organizations and careers blowing up at some point.
In the book Ego Free Leadership: Ending The Unconscious Habits That Hijack Your Business, author Brandon Black describes two types of egos — the defensive ego and the offensive ego. Defensive ego stems from protecting yourself from failure, being hurt and being judged. Say your boss gives you feedback. You feel criticized, get defensive, start to blame, deflect and defend as your ego hears “you are judging me” or telling me l am wrong.
On the other hand, your offensive ego desires to be acknowledged, heard and respected. Have you ever seen the person in the workplace pulling off the impossible, getting promoted quickly and identified as the indispensable one? When people are immersed in admiration, sometimes they fail to see other’s needs, ideas or contributions. The “me, me, me” complex generates distrust and unhealthy competition among teams.
Let me share seven ways to bypass your ego to assist in your uplifting team.
1. Self-awareness is the key.
Identify the part of your emotional response to any situation that is connected to your self-worth. Are you nervous about an upcoming presentation, feeling annoyed about feedback from your boss, struggling to meet the deadline of a project? It is usually indicative that your ego is engaged.
2. Ego-free mindset.
I have never met anyone who has an ego-free mindset, but often, when you are engaged in a cause bigger than yourself, a level of humility is displayed. Vigilance toward our ego is a moment-by-moment practice. One interaction, you can be totally centered, the next something is triggered within you and ego steps in. When ego is put to the side and you invest in uplifting others, doors are opened to unlock human potential and limitless possibilities are presented.
3. Under the hood.
Unconscious habits engenders dysfunction and ultimately hijacks your business. When you can’t identify destructive elements of your ego, like the need to be right or a fear of failure, the defensive or passive-aggressive behavior creates ripples within the business. Collaboration is quashed, and pivotal operations are disrupted, resulting in a cost to the business. Reinforcing your connection to a large cause creates a platform to reconnect on collective goals.
4. Quality questions.
When your leadership derails, asking yourself quality questions creates an opportunity to rise above crisis. Shifting your language creates a circuit breaker in the communication loop. Rather than highlighting “This is what you are doing to me,” instead state, “This is what is playing out between us.” That creates an opportunity to repair relationships. Portioning blame inflates the ego, and gridlocked behaviors create more damage. A more collaborative approach helps everyone see that individual judgments are often mirror images.
5. Adding value by serving.
The bottom line about leadership is serving. The best leaders know it’s not about you, it is about the people you serve. Don’t let an overactive ego keep you from being your best self or bringing out the best in others. When the ego is bypassed, more functional behaviors are instilled, and teams begin to solve problems, prioritize resources and focus on initiatives with the greatest strategic value.
6. How to pollute the waters of business.
The blaming CEO stains the fabric of a workplace culture. When United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was first interviewed about one of his employees removing a passenger from a flight, he referred to the incident as regrettable but necessary. Blaming others when things go poorly discredits the business and damages reputations.
When the ego gets triggered, it wants to win, be right and avoid looking stupid. Ego points the finger at others. Leaders can become defensive or reactive, setting off a chain of unresourceful behaviors.
7. Building an accountability culture.
To break through a blame and shame mentality, leaders must acknowledge their part of the problem. The leader sets the example for others to look in the mirror. When leaders acknowledge their mistakes, an accountability culture is bred where people hold themselves accountable irrespective of the level of authority. It starts at the top. In the United Airlines example, rather than criticizing and attributing blame, another alternative may have been sourced by the CEO by acknowledging that the action was not consistent with the values of the company. Leaders must embrace their vulnerability and humility. By doing so, you set a standard of excellence that encourages everyone around you to do the same. Together, you rise.