I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today that sparked some thoughts I wanted to commit to paper – or in this case, to share on this blog. We were having a discussion about recognition, which expanded into a text exchange about ego – and humility.
We all have an ego. Sigmund Freud identified it as one part of our psyche (along with Id, and Super-Ego), but we don’t need his research to tell us that all of us have pride, feelings, and a desire to promote our self-worth. In leadership, professional or personal, the question isn’t its existence. The question of ego comes up when we talk about whether we lead with it, and how much overall influence we give it over our decision making and our behaviors.
Ego itself is not a bad thing. In fact harnessed correctly it can be a very powerful mechanism for enabling your vision as it can remove fear and lack of confidence in your ability to achieve something big. Where it runs into problems is when others around you start to see it as an integral part of your leadership signature. When you spend more time celebrating yourself, your team, your results, or anything about you in general, especially in a public setting, you run the risk of misusing ego and detracting from the power of your own leadership.
Don’t get me wrong…you’re sitting in a room with a trusted friend and acknowledging, “Hey, I had to do this to get that done.” is hardly a crisis point in narcissism – assuming you actually did what you said you did. But I have been in rooms where leaders stand in front of other leaders and speak the same way, discounting team effort and contribution and making sure the glory falls on them. There is no quicker way to lose followers or advocates, and besides, none of us accomplishes anything alone. People see that. People don’t like that.
That is why the capstone Commitment of Leadership Zen is Humility. Get to a point where the only affirmation and adulation you need is from within yourself. That is the absolute strongest position you can be in as a leader – and also speaks to your own authenticity, which is of course our Foundational Commitment. When you do, you will find yourself just a little more Zen, and capable of tackling difficult situations with relative ease while making better decisions along the way.
And so will other people.