I think about ego as the idealized or overinflated story each of us tells about who we are – a story that is like a shield. It provides protection, but also blocks our view and it is very difficult to put down. Do you have an ego story? It might be the story about how and why you got to where you are today, or the story about who you are compared to others…

There are lots of versions of ego stories. For example:

I know. I have all the credentials, experience, and intellect I need. There’s not much others could teach me at this point.

I am successful. My achievements tell you who I am. I’m not someone who makes big mistakes or fails.

I am the boss. I earned my position of power and expect others to respect – and defer – to my authority.

Sound familiar? You are not alone. Ego is normal. We all have it. At times we even need it! BUT ego can quickly become a saboteur for leaders. The difference between a self-confident leader and an ego-driven leader is that the latter makes decisions and takes actions in order to protect or confirm their idealized sense of self.

The number one pitfall to ego-driven leadership is: the story you are protecting isn’t true. It never was. So, eventually the moment arrives when you don’t live up to the story you’ve convinced yourself of and now you’re in threat response – defending, blaming, avoiding, desperately trying to protect your story. To do so you decide, “These people don’t get it!” or “That’s not a valid criticism.”

As leaders, we CAN learn the warning signs that our egos might be getting the best of us. Here are some questions you can ask yourself; Do I…

    …actively seek out opinions that differ from my own?
    …feel jealousy or envy when I see peers succeed?
    …feel bad about myself or resentful when I don’t receive credit for my achievements?
    …ask for constructive criticism and receive it without defensiveness?
    …struggle to suspend judgment and see a situation from others’ perspectives?

If you became defensive in reaction to some of these questions – or, indeed answered with an outright “yes,” consider the following strategies for modulating your ego:

Actively invite feedback. Feedback is the best way to see your own shortcomings. Decide: “I am a work in progress,” and find trusted partners who are willing to challenge you and shine a light on your blind spots.

Appreciate and celebrate others’ successes. Take time to express gratitude and admiration for others’ contributions and achievements. Remember, you are working toward a shared purpose to which everyone contributes.

Choose purpose over self-ambition. Ask yourself: “What contributions am I trying to make? What impacts do I want my leadership to have on others’ lives? What good can I do that I’ll feel proud of – even if no one else knows I did it?”

Reframe “failure”. Rather than seeing failure as an existential statement about who you are, come to accept yourself as a life-long learner and reframe failure as one of the inevitable and valuable, albeit painful, ways learning happens.

Release your grip on your ego story. You don’t need to abandon your ego story as long as you hold it more lightly (e.g. “I have a great track record thus far in my career about which I feel proud – and, at the same time, I’m always learning”.)

Modulating your ego does not mean giving up self-confidence. It means shedding long-held illusions that ultimately undermine your “power” – and learning the true power of embracing and presenting a truer, more humble self.

Has your “response” to the title of this blog changed after reading the whole article? How and why?

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