Last week, Wade Taylor from wsradio interviewed me. We were talking about the mindfulness myth of being in the present, when he brought up a term for what I do that I had never used before.
He said that part of my work with people is about ‘unlearning.’
That’s so true; to make a paradigm shift, you often have to unlearn something old to make room for something new.
That’s spot-on when it comes to the ego.
Ego is something I hear leaders talk about a lot. Most of the time, leaders struggle with ego when they fear making a business decision based on selfish reasons, being too focused on themselves or being judgmental or conceited. For many, “ego struggles” feel like normal, ongoing tension.
Here’s the problem, though. The ego is a construct we’ve created.
We’ve taken behaviors and feelings we don’t like and put them in this box called ‘ego.’ Then we try to push that box away. We make these parts the bad guys.
Ostracizing parts of us as bad results in a disconnect from ourselves.
Try this Experiment
Try this experiment: listen to how people talk about their egos. You’ll notice that they speak of their egos in voices dripping with contempt.
How can it be healthy to treat a part of yourself that way? We know if we treated a child the way people treat their egos, the child would not thrive. In fact, it would be traumatizing.
So how can we expect ourselves to flourish if we treat ourselves that way?
How can we expect to live as integrated and actualizing people, if we keep shipping parts of ourselves off to the stratosphere?
Locked in Inner Turmoil
Treating the ego as enemy locks us in an eternal inner struggle with it. It’s a fear-based way of living, always having to be on guard against this ‘bad guy’ who threatens harm.
So, what’s the alternative?
The Positive Perspective
From a positive perspective, ego means a solid, healthy and strong sense of self.
This unconventional approach starts with listening to yourself, getting to know yourself and not trashing parts of you as bad. This is the basis of self-trust, self-respect and self-love.
The Funny Thing That Happens
Many of the leaders I know dislike the idea of ego-driven or narcissistic leaders. Yet, none of them are that way: they care for others and want to help them advance.
The very fact that you worry about these types of motivations tells you that you’re not that kind of leader. You’re the type of leader who seeks to do your best and loves lifting others up and seeing them grow and develop.
But there’s a funny thing that happens. When you’re acting out of a fear of ego, you’re more likely to create what you fear.
Better Decisions and Strategy, Less Self-Doubt
Approaching these parts positively rather than ostracizing them will lead to much better decisions and strategy. You’ll begin making decisions from a more integrated and aligned place with greater access to wisdom. You won’t dismiss yourself or your needs and opinions as irrelevant and you’ll spend less time in self-doubt questioning your own judgements and perceptions.
If something is coming up, trust that it’s coming up for a reason. There’s a part of you that wants something. Self-respect means that you listen rather than dismissing it. This kind of deep listening grows self-trust.
Does it mean that you should make the decision completely based on you? No, of course not.
But something is coming up for you. Maybe those needs have a place in this decision and maybe they don’t. Perhaps they represent needs that your employees or customers have and by incorporating them into the equation, you arrive at a much better solution for all stakeholders. Maybe this is a moment to step beyond the status quo and you have some natural fear arising.
Who knows? In fact, you don’t know until you listen.
Maybe you’ll discover this isn’t the appropriate place for their expression. But they still need expression somewhere and by listening to them you can find the right place.
With awareness, you can avoid the road to burnout, since not listening to their needs is what lands people in trouble. As a leader, it’s essential for you to stay out of burnout – and to model healthy behavior that gives your team members permission to have a healthy approach to themselves.
As you make sure you meet your needs, you show up more fully. You’re better able to ensure that other people’s needs are met.
You have more energy because you have less internal conflict. When you accept yourself as you are then there’s nothing you need to defend; there’s just something more to understand (this is giving from a full cup).
No More Bad Guys
If you want to avoid behaviours that are not genuine, not well-considered or strategic, or that don’t benefit the group, throwing your ego under the bus as the bad guy is not the answer. Instead, try self-connection and a positive approach of no more bad guys.
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P.S. Here’s the link to the 12 minutes where Wade and I talked about the mindfulness myth of being in the present: http://traffic.libsyn.com/wsradiopresents/lir3021820.mp3