Ego and Leadership: My story

On a recent trip my kids tired of looking for different license plates, so they decided to count the number of Prius’ that passed Dad.  They found it funny when a little 134 horsepower car passed a 310 horsepower truck.  I was reminded of the number 2 throughout our journey.  My way out was to exceed my limit of driving the speed limit +6 mph (avoiding risk of a ticket) to over take the Prius’ that zoomed by.  My ego said go faster, but the thought of a ticket vs pursuing the artificial win kept my ego in check.

Ego is a noun.  It is that thing within us that mediates between who we are inside and our external reality.  We often hear it used as a negative, especially when we talk about leaders.

  • His ego won’t let him admit that he was wrong. 
  • This decision was all about her ego and not about what was right for the organization.

Is ego bad?

Not always.  Too often we forget that ego is the driving force behind great accomplishments.  The DiSC profile talks about the D and the I styles seeing themselves as more powerful than their environment.  Their ego allows them to face big challenges, keep a clear focus, and find a way to persevere to a solution.  For many leaders, ego drives them to success.

Then what happens?  Flip Flippen and others talk about how strengths, when overused, become our constraints.  Ego is one of them.  Ego might provide stamina, but in a leader it can easily be perceived as ignoring needs/goals of others to satisfy self.  When their ego takes over and warning signs or boundaries are ignored to secure the victory or preserve power, it becomes a destructive force.

To finish my story, I am not an ego-less driver.  On the return home while entering Illinois a third Prius tried to overtake me.  For 31 miles my cruise was adjusted to speed limit + 11.  They exited for a stop, and I finished my trip:  Prius 2, Dad/Suburban 1.  It did not quiet the kids, but my ego was satisfied. 🙂

What part is ego playing in your decisions today?  How has it helped?  How would others see it?  What boundaries (values, beliefs, rules) do you have that guide your ego? (write them down)

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Leave the Squirrels Alone – Put Energy Where It Matters

Today at breakfast I watched the squirrels eat at my bird feeder.  Remember – I called it a bird feeder.  I grew up watching my Dad chase the squirrels away with every trap and method imaginable, so to this point in my life I saw the squirrel as an enemy.  Then I realized that 25 lbs of sunflower seeds was less than $10 . . . and that squirrels are just hungry.  Suddenly, the reason I had started this battle in the first place was fuzzy.  The only thing I could come up with was it was a matter of principle because I wanted to feed the birds.  So I decided to feed the squirrels and turn my energy to other things.

Seth Godin calls the part of our brain that takes over when we feel threatened the lizard brain.  More specifically, it is the amygdala or inner brain, and when it takes over the thought and reasoning parts are idled and fight/flight thinking dominates.  The resulting behaviors have been researched and identified by the Birkman Method as stress behaviors, and they are not normal or productive.  They happen when the lizard brain is in charge.

So what are the ‘squirrels’ you are battling?  In the business world I have seen operations square off with sales, engineering with design, quality with suppliers, finance with sales, and purchasing with just about everyone.  There are lots of battles going on, and in many the lizard brain is in charge.  Getting out of the lizard brain is one of those things that is simple, but difficult. Here are five steps to taking the control away:

  1. Step back and see the behaviors (yours and others) as lizard brain thinking.
  2. Ask the questions:  What is our common goal here?  What is the solution we are each offering?  Why are we so passionate about our solution?  (keep asking Why? until you get to the basic answer)
  3. Listen well and write the answers so everyone can see.
  4. Ask:  What solution best fits our common goal?
  5. Make a decision – and move on.

A grown man, in his pajamas, sneaking through the snow with a club to attack a squirrel is an image that reflects some lizard brain thinking.  What is a good image of your lizard brain taking over?  Identify it, remember it, and take the power away from it when it happens.