Ego: The enemy of good leadership
December 19, 2018
The company is falling apart and its survival is in the balance. It has:
Investment, Technology, Markets, Expertise, Experience, Prospects, Good People…
Basically everything it needs to succeed. And yet it may not. Why?
The reason is quite simply ego. The shareholders, chairman and chief exec are all at war with each other. They have seen eye-to-eye on much, but disagree on some important issues and cannot – will not – find any accommodation, compromise, or entertain a meeting of minds. The deafening mantra behind all their communication is:
I’M RIGHT – YOU’RE WRONG
And when your identity is invested in knowing what you are talking about – being successful, being the expert and being right – when that is challenged it generates an existential crisis. Your very being is threatened. So you fight and you fight for your life to protect the priceless, sacred ideas that you hold about yourself. It’s a nasty business.
The good news is that none of it is real. All of this is ego – just an accretion of vapid thoughts and feelings that we have about ourselves. It has no substance and no actual reality. But it can cause havoc in our relationships in direct proportion to the degree to which we identify with it. It is, without doubt, the biggest barrier that any of us have to fulfilling our true potential.
The irony is that in protecting itself, the ego destroys communication, relationships and even businesses – and for what? The privilege of being seen to be right.
Fortunately in the real-life example above, the egos are high-profile – easy to spot and not difficult to manipulate (unless you have a big ego yourself). Some others are more difficult to see as they can appear utterly reasonable and in tune with our own ego.
Here are caricatured examples of some of the ideas (beliefs) which the individual invests their identity in, to create an ego in the process:
I’m Right – As above. Whether it’s through reason or feeling, you know you’re right. You have the intellect and experience and you will overcome any arguments to the contrary. If it’s a strong feeling you have, you will justify it with logic.
I’m Nice – You really want to be liked and will avoid confrontation to maintain the feeling of being a nice person. You simply can’t abide the thought of anyone not appreciating your efforts to accommodate and value them.
I’m Fair – Even if it means upsetting someone, you have to do the right thing. You have a keen sense of morality and could not live with yourself if you abandoned your principles just to keep someone happy or make things work better.
I’m Successful – Your status and success says it all. You have the car, the clothes and the lifestyle to prove it. Why would anyone challenge you when you are evidently more successful than those around you.
I’m The Boss – You’ve worked tirelessly to get where you are today and you have no desire to relinquish that hard-earned status. You don’t really care what people think, you’re paid the big bucks to make decisions and you carry the can.
I’m The Owner – It’s all very well for others to have an opinion but when all is said and done, it’s your business and you’re the one with everything to lose if it goes down the pan. You may listen to others but they’ll never really get what being the owner means.
I’m Surrounded By Idiots – If you’d known what a bunch of losers you’d end up with, you’d never have employed them in the first place. But if you can just keep them on the right track for a little longer, you’ll be able to sort things out – just not right now…
In practice our egos are a mashup of all or some of the above and many other beliefs too.
Let’s just make one thing clear: egos are not inherently bad. Many would assert that it is part and parcel of being human and that operating without an ego of some sort is simply not possible. So we’re not talking about eradicating the ego.
We need leaders to look inwards and start to recognise some of the belief systems that underpin the egos they carry around with them. In fact all of us need to do just that.
Only when you can start to perceive ego as your own construct can you begin to operate beyond it, rather than hanging on to it as if your life depends on it.
By Chris Pearse