It has been present as long as I can remember. As a 5-year-old playing sports, a 13-year-old running for class president, an 18-year-old deciding on colleges, a 23-year-old playing professional golf, a 28-year-old getting married, and now, as a 33-year-old leading a family and a company… “it” is always something I have battled. Until recently (thanks Ryan Holiday), I didn’t know how or even why I needed to overcome “it”. By “it” I’m referring to the enemy that lives inside of all of us all - ego.
Ego is simply our own self-centered, self-serving, ambition. The desire to be more than, to be recognized for, or to be elevated above others. I believe ego is a conflict all leaders face, yet don’t want talk about.
Most run away from the simple question, “Is this life you are living about yourself and your career or about other people and something much bigger than yourself?
Some choose to embrace their ego, make it a core part of their daily lives, pursue a life all about themselves all while acting like it’s not all about them (LIE). While other leaders make it their mission to attack their ego with a with relentless pursuit to ensure it has zero control over their actions and their focus remains on helping others.
The problem with ego as a leader is it’s “fake.” People see it through it, they know it’s ever-present, and either adjust their behavior to either take advantage of their leader’s ego or disengage and just do what they are told. Ego leads to poor business and life decisions focused solely on the individual and their desires. It's the opposite of how the great Jackie Robinson thought about leadership.
A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.
Here’s the cool part: When you peel back the onion and remove ego from the equation you get real substance. Things like humility, confidence and patience come to the forefront. These are the qualities that sustain people, teams, organizations and families through good and bad times. Ultimately, when a leader decides to leave the ego behind and pursue a life focused on helping other people become the best version of themselves, they will be able to reach their own potential.
Once you understand the power of what it means to leave ego behind, it will make you a stronger and better leader. Here are few powerful signs your ego is in the right place for leadership.
As the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “It’s the details that are vital, little things make big things happen.” You probably have your team focused on the actions that are going to make your team successful, not the end results. Your team is locked in on leading KPI’s and working as a unit to execute the them to the best of your abilities without you at the forefront.
In season 1 episode 10 of the Follow My Lead Podcast, David Hughes talked about the importance of “going off to the mountain.” You understand how important it is to “go off to the mountain” and taking a reflective look at business. You do this quarterly to move the business forward, and put extra focus on improving culture, individual team member development, and business visions.
Most leaders think silence is a weakness, but you think it’s more of a strength. You know providing a good example to your team through your actions is difficult, but you do it every day. You do the right things both at work and in your personal life because you know it’s important that people see instead of hear.
There isn’t much worse than meeting someone you have looked up to for a long time and being let down. Your focus isn’t on impressing other people with using verbal jargon they don’t understand or flashy material things, your focus is on being present. You’re a lifelong learner, who removes distractions to focus on others when they are speaking, thinking of how you can help others over yourself.
LearnLoft’s purpose is to teach modern professionals how to add value to their organization and the world. You understand you are pursuing something outside of yourself that has a much bigger objective. You communicate this to your team so they know the reason they are on this journey with you.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having nice things, but they aren’t the reason why you work. You open your home regularly to your team, and you share what you have with others. You buy nice things because you like them, not to impress other people.
If these signs are present in your life, I commend you for setting your ego aside choosing the correct path of leadership. It’s important to remember you are never immune to slipping into old ways, so continue to do the things necessary to keep it that way. If you can’t relate to these at all but see the value in moving your ego aside you can begin anew today. Find one thing you can start now and create a habit to help move you in that direction.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.