As A Leader, Why Does My Ego Even Matter?
By Thor Olafsson
In the corporate world, our egos have often played an essential role in leadership and management. Ego is often at the forefront of many of the results we’ve achieved. So why should our egos even matter? And what’s the benefit of leading beyond our egos?
Thor Olafsson is author of the book BEYOND EGO: THE INNER COMPASS OF CONSCIOUS LEADERSHIP. He’s an award-winning leadership coach and consultant with over 20 years of global experience.
“Why is it even relevant to talk about ego in leadership?” It’s a question I’ve been asked countless times by some of the most innovative and successful CEOs and managers worldwide. And on the surface, it would seem that they have a good point. With a whole host of management courses, books and programs about maximizing efficiency and corporate benefits, it can feel counterintuitive to question the very foundations that much of our traditional management training is actually built upon. It would seem that ego gets results. And when these strategies have been effective for decades, why should we even bring them into question or suggest another way?
Yet in the last 10 years there has been a gradual shift towards questioning some of the more unconscious strategies of conventional leadership. And one of the core changes that is coming to the forefront is the question of how we show up as leaders, and particularly the role that our ego plays in leadership.
In a previous post we looked at the impact that ego has on leadership, and the insidious ways that it can affect the function of our teams. And in this post we’ll get clearer on why working consciously towards leading beyond our egos actually matters, and some of the surprising side effects it can generate.
The You in Leadership
When we initially raise the topic of consciousness in leadership, most managers will admit that it’s not been a priority for them so far. Generally, managers have to deal with 3 circles of influence:
1. The decisions they can make on their own,
2. Their circle of influence; topics which they can still influence but are outside of their circle of decision,
3. Their circles of concern, which are often outside of their influence.
Most managers are unconsciously drawn to focusing on the circle of concern (number 3), without realizing that if they knew how to keep the focus on the other two circles, it would have a dramatic impact on the way their teams operate. Leaders who focus mainly on the 3rd circle often feel like firefighters, constantly reacting to countless day-to-day challenges, and these efforts leave them with a feeling of dissatisfaction, leading to exhaustion and even burnout.
Many of the leaders I work with have managed like this for years, but when they are able to take a step back, slow down and look within, it changes the focus. Instead of trying to constantly control the outcomes of the world around them, they start by consciously examining themselves and looking at the very core of the way that they show up as leaders.
Unpicking the Ego
When we start to look within, we begin a journey of unpicking the ego. Here we realize that many of its patterns are actually protective mechanisms that we developed as coping strategies early on in life (something that we explored further in the last post). When we get beyond these strategies we start to get to our truth, beyond the programmed patterns and learned behaviors that our ego relies on as a driving force.
Peeling back the layers of the ego changes the way we show up as managers. A boss who has done their inner work is usually someone who:
- Has their ego under control
- Is motivated and driven by a deep sense of purpose
- Is willing to be vulnerable while still remaining strong
- Is ready to learn from their mistakes and take constructive feedback from their teams
- Shares a lot of truth with you, and invites you to be truthful too.
Pretty much everyone that I’ve ever worked with has agreed that this is the kind of boss that they want to be led by, and we see these traits in many of the leaders that we are actually drawn to. And this is a strong contrast to the ego-based leadership style that was traditionally associated with “strong management.”
The “Side Effects” of Leading Beyond Ego
A lot of the structures that held the old systems in place were based on the assumption that people are more productive under an ego-based leader. But there is a growing body of research which demonstrates that egoless, psychologically safe and purpose driven environments where individuals and teams feel able to give feedback and share ideas freely actually lead to more productivity, and not less.
We’re entering an age where a lot of the old structures are being dismantled, and one of those structures is the antiquated belief that fear is the most powerful motivator. Imagine a world where all of our leaders are willing to listen, take feedback, learn from their mistakes, and grow with humility. This is the kind of world we are modeling when we are willing to look within and lead others from being our egos.
For a more in depth exploration of why examining our egos matters and how we can lead beyond them, you can get a copy of “Beyond Ego: The Inner Compass of Conscious Leadership” here.