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Why setting your ego aside will make you a better leader?

Sep 21, 2020

I was recently in a coaching session with a leader who realized how difficult it was for him to be vulnerable. And he easily and candidly identified the cause: his ego.  He even wondered whether his ego was being affected by his role as a leader. In fact, he wondered if his leadership role encouraged his belief that he needed to answer everything and keep control. Have you ever wondered where your ego fits into your leadership position? And what impact does it have on your relationships with your employees and colleagues?

 

Identifying your leadership ego

I've often heard leaders say, "I'm not the same person at work as I am at home.'’ As if they left their compassion and personality at home (for the sake of their loved ones and family) and at work, they take on the role of a leader which brings a different way of being, depending on the image given to the leadership role.

The ego is, among other things, a part of us that wants to look good, to be recognized, that wants to succeed at all costs and to be right. It cares a lot about what others think of it. It compares to elevate. It doesn't like "not knowing", "not mastering" a skill, making mistakes or, worse, failing, in front of others. It prefers knowing everything off the bat, not to question its beliefs or be judged. It sometimes presents ideas in a meeting as if they were an absolute truth. It is possible for it to react to a sensitive conversation about a project as if its life depended on it. Do you recognize it?

Unbeknownst to us, our ego seeps into many reactions, behaviours and thoughts. It attributes meaning to ourselves and to others, our employees and colleagues - for example: I am better, I am unique, I am different, others don't understand, they are incompetent, they are not collaborative. Our ego can also be the cause of many of our insecurities and doubts, it sets a high bar for standards.

 

Consider the impact of your leadership ego

Let's observe our ego when it infiltrates our reactions and our conversations with our employees or colleagues. And the impact it has when it takes over. 

How many times have you witnessed a colleague defending their perspective in a meeting, sometimes loudly and clearly, convinced that they are right?  Whether they were right or not, did you notice the impact on you or the team? Either another ego escalates the situation, or people keep quiet, safe. At this point, collaboration, creativity, commitment and innovation are no longer on the table - it’s no longer about the team. 

Our ego, as a leader, can actively contribute, without even realizing it, to work in silos, lack of listening, misunderstandings, issues of priority alignment, work climate, and escalating conflicts. 

 

Managing your ego

To manage our ego, I suggest observing our behaviors, our needs, our triggers, our emotions and the situations that make us react.

  • What fuels my ego in a meeting or in a one-on-one conversation?

  • How does it make me react? I attack, I argue, I impose, I withdraw, I do not intervene anymore, I freeze, without a word (fight or flight or freeze)?

  • What is the impact of my ego reactions on my ability to fully collaborate with others - my employees and colleagues?

  • In light of these reflections, what trends emerge and what can I do differently?

 

In my case, managing my coach ego allows me to be more attentive, more present and to accept being perfectly imperfect. For you, as a leader, what would the management of  your ego allow you to do?

I am convinced (so is my ego!) that the more we satisfy our need to assert ourselves individually, the more we find our place and our contribution to our team. Hence, recognizing the added value of those around us. It is certainly the key to more effective collaboration.

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