5 Basic Reasons Why Ego Is The Enemy of Corporations
Thor Olafsson | Mar 2021
The decorated former Navy Seal officer, “Jocko” Willink says it straight out: Ego is the enemy. He along with other Navy Seals see our own egos preventing us from being humble, being at our best and taking full ownership of ourselves and our circumstances.
And corporations are no different. They too are dealing with ego as a powerful, resourceful and cunning enemy. And both organisations have a love / hate relationship with it.
But lets have a stab at defining ego. We see it as our surviving mechanism, constantly devising coping strategies, that begins to operate early in our lives.
Imagine for a moment a 6 year old boy growing up in a (seen from his perspective) volatile and dangerous household, consisting of a temperamental and stressed out father, a co-dependent mother and a dominant older brother. A household that embeds the following mindset into the 6 year old “there is not enough safety here, so I need to be vigilant and ready to react when danger arises”.
What coping strategies does this 6 year old develop? Disappearing into his room when things heat up? Becoming aggressive to let out frustration? Being a “people pleaser” who survives through strong allies? The possible patterns are numerous, including perfectionism, knowledge based power, being a drama queen or even a chameleon, but individuals tend to stick mostly to 1-2 patterns. The ones that serve them best. Around these patterns we then form stories around who we are. The end result is a persona we created, that we identify with strongly. Two obvious problems are a) that the patterns behind the persona originated from fear and b) that we take more of these patterns with us into adulthood than we may think.
And here is the love/hate dilemma. We have been shaped by a scarcity mentality (my environment is not safe enough, I am not smart enough, not tall enough, not thin enough, not fast enough, not strong enough = not good enough), through our upbringing, school systems etc. In response to that fear our coping strategies have become strong. And that perceived strength makes us love them. So when faced with danger, we actively apply our strategies and feel some level of success. But…how is this a problem? It seems to work fine…right?
Well, yes and no. In the short term, the ego can often claim what it feels is a victory, but let’s explore the longer term view. The root of the problem is, as mentioned earlier that ego is fear driven. So if leaders use ego based tactics stemming from the core they themselves are embedded in, such as applying the carrot and stick tactics (overt or subtle threats mixed with a promise of reward while all the time reminding people of the danger of not achieving targets), what are the longer term effects?
- Being constantly reminded of what could go wrong, we become cautious and avoid any unnecessary risk. We stick to our responsibilities and our responsibilities only.
- With people in different departments believing in the above, cross departmental collaboration is significantly reduced.
- With less collaboration we become more and more siloed and do not invest in relational connections.
- With weak relationships and little collaboration (everyone just minding their business), creative solutions become scarce and innovation slows down to a trickle.
- Processes and ways of working are to focused on “covering our behinds” (pardon my French!) And organisations suffering the above symptoms become slow and stale.
But what can be done? Are people even seeing this? Thankfully, the answer is YES!
Amy Edmonson has championed Psychological Safety as a solution and that concept along has enlightened countless people. Brene Brown has challenged millions to embrace vulnerability and Dare to Lead. Patrick Lencioni and Google have both argued convincingly (with different words) that teams perform much better in an atmosphere of Psychological Safety.
All of the above pioneers are beacons for the corporate world, as they help the rest of us navigate away from the thunderous cloud of the ego…and into the light. And the corporate world is beginning to take notice. We at Strategic Leadership propose we compliment all that work with a fearless exploration of our own ego patterns, so that we can get to the core of who we are. A core that is purpose driven rather than fear driven. A core that is strong and lasting.
In the next few weeks and months I aim to write more articles, explaining some of the ways in which we use The Inner Compass of Conscious Leadership to “peel our onion” and navigate our way to the truest version of ourselves.