The ego is a rather brittle and inflexible character. When we are in its grip our actions are rooted subconsciously in fear. At all costs, we try to defend our rather vulnerable and fragile self concept. Above all else, the ego fears its disintegration and therefore works tirelessly to build strong defences which maintain its integrity in the face of ‘the other’. ‘The other’, of course, is any other person or external event which presents a threat to its stability. As we have touched on before in this blog, ego-full behaviours abound in the workplace including: manipulation, blaming, procrastination, bullying and control-freakery. At some point in life, these behaviours developed because they apparently ‘worked’ and kept us safe in hostile conditions. As we grow into adulthood, these very same behaviours can also appear to bring us short-term gain. However, in my experience, if you are a leader, they will also certainly create conditions for long-term pain.
I have witnessed the lengths that a dysfunctional ego can go to in order to preserve its self concept; even in the face of significant negative consequences for the individual, their colleagues and probably their organisation. I once watched a young, bright and successful executive lose her job in an organisation because of limiting ego-based patterns. When a disagreement arose as to how a strategic issue should be handled within the business, the individual was so ego-full that they were unable to give up the need to be right. In their inflexibility, the executive was unwilling to either take up another’s perspective, seek common ground or use their creativity to seek a possible solution. There was an escalation of hostility as one ego clashed head-on with another. Clearly, ultimately this situation became unsustainable.
However, if the executive had been able to set aside their sense of self, my experience is that they would have been able to enter into a much more productive and creative dialogue about the best way forward for the business. With the ego out of the way, we are able to see more clearly; bring calm to chaos, and infuse our conversations with a greater sense of humility. Our focus on the needs of the whole before our own, creates a more collaborative, creative and sustainable environment for problem-solving. This is the way of the Conscious Leader.
Setting the ego aside is no small task. Yet the demands of our emerging workforce call for exactly that. We are witnessing the desire for greater levels of engagement, empowerment and purpose in the workplace, alongside the need to rebuild trust and collaboration in our wider society. This means that a new way of leading is essential for the long-term well-being of individuals, businesses and the wider whole.