Philosophers have been grappling with the issue of ego for centuries.
Our ego is the cause of many fears and anxieties, but the problems it produces aren’t only related to our personal lives.
In a business setting, ego can lead to nervousness, embarrassment, erratic decision-making, and a toxic work environment. If you can’t control — or better yet, embrace — your ego, you won’t be able to make rational, intuitive decisions. You’ll insert too much of yourself into a situation and base any decisions off of how it may affect you personally.
But if you’ve been raised in the U.S., living under the constant refrain of meritocracy and capitalism, then you may be used to an environment that favors ego, infighting, office politics, and competition.
To get past that and focus on a more collaborative style of business and leadership, you have to do some unlearning.
Here’s how to grow past ego and become a better leader in the process:
Sit, listen, and be present.
If you listen to people, rather than inserting yourself into their situation, they’ll tell you what they want.
For example, in sales, you don’t want to come right out and pitch someone immediately. Instead, you have to listen, ask questions, and wait for them to communicate their needs. Only then can you understand what you actually have to do to fulfill those needs.
It sounds obvious, but being present enough to listen doesn’t come naturally to everyone. More often than not, people forget to hear the person across from them and continue to push their own agendas.
But it’s only when you put that agenda (aka your ego) aside, that you can truly build trust and connect with other people.
Don’t be possessive of ideas.
No one owns an idea.
The concept of “my idea” is pure ego, yet a lot of businesses continue to advance that type of thinking. People are given credit for coming up with brilliant brainstorms or executing on a concept. While credit may provide validation, it only fuels ego. And it doesn’t take long before that environment becomes political and competitive.
Of course, we all have a natural inclination to be possessive of our ideas or “discoveries.” When I was in middle school, I was the kid who always discovered songs a month or two before they became popular and everyone was listening to them. It drove me crazy that I never got any credit for finding them first. In children, that behavior is excusable. But when adults are doing the same thing at work — trying to own concepts or ideas — it’s a recipe for an ego-driven environment.
On the other hand, business leaders without ego act as conduits for a vision. They don’t take credit or try to own the idea, they just fight to bring it to fruition.
Work to develop self-awareness.
A lot of people aren’t even aware that they’re driven by ego. That’s because it takes a conscious effort to think about how you interact with people and approach decision-making.
If you feel like your ego might be in the driver’s seat in certain scenarios, then you need to begin soliciting feedback and truly listening to it. By consistently giving and receiving feedback, you can start challenging yourself to truly be present and hear what other people are telling you. Really unpack what they’re saying, rather than letting your mind wander.
Personally, if I know I’ll be in a situation where I’ll be receiving feedback, I try to spend time beforehand practicing mindfulness. Sometimes, this means setting up meetings where the first five minutes are blocked out for people to practice mindfulness. I’ve also seen meetings where cell phones and laptops were banned, in order for people to be fully present.
Engaging earnestly with what people are telling you is one of the biggest steps you can take to get rid of your ego.
Prioritize selfish self-care.
It may seem counterintuitive to focus on yourself when trying to eliminate your ego.
But the reality is that you need to feel fulfilled and satisfied with who you are before you can begin leading others without thinking about yourself. To do that, you have to set boundaries and be firm about your own needs.
Then, when it comes time to make a decision about who to hire or what goals to set, you’ll have something to guide your decision and keep you away from situations where ego will become a problem.
For example, say you’re not taking care of yourself. You’re losing confidence and feeling poorly in your personal life, so you look to your work for validation. And when it comes time to hire someone, your natural reaction will be to protect yourself by hiring a person who isn’t as good as you. It’s the old saying: ‘B’ players hire ‘C’ players. ‘A’ players hire ‘A+’ players.
Someone coming from a place of ego feels threatened by hiring subordinates who are better than them. Yet someone who’s lost their ego realizes that hiring a great team will only help their career.
Casting the ego aside is essential for anyone who wants to be a good leader.
When you rely on your ego to make decisions, they won’t be in the best interest of the team. But when you grow past ego, you can look at the situation with clear eyes and make the best decision for everyone involved.