Ego versus Reality
Ego creates chaos because it doesn’t want you to get still enough to see what is real. Reality, self-reflection, and accountability make the ego very nervous. It doesn’t want to venture outside its comfort zone, so it will cling to the old and look for every possible way to torpedo change. Ego resists the things it knows will kill it. Things like:
- Mental flexibility
- Taking full accountability
- Letting go
- Moving on
Another way to avoid the ego’s trap is to stop with the sympathy and use empathy instead.
Sympathy comes from a good place. We don’t want to see people in pain. But sympathy exacerbates the pain rather than healing it. For instance, leaders are told to provide feedback. But typically, it is delivered in a way that engages the ego, so conflict and defensiveness result. Who likes dealing with that? In an effort to keep the peace, leaders particularly shy away from giving feedback to people with dominant egos. Instead, they offer sympathy, soothing the person’s ego by agreeing and colluding with his or her self-imposed suffering.
A New Role for the Leader
Leaders can create, for themselves and for others the No Ego Moments.
These are opportunities to help people recognize when they’re operating in ego mode. By developing an awareness of when the ego is creating its false and destructive narrative, people can be coached into settling their minds so reality can assert its power.
The Six Practices of No Ego Leadership
Practice #1 Stop Believing Everything You Think.
Listen to your narrator. Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Do you hear that internal voice or voices? What does the conversation sound like? Do thoughts come and go without your influence? Who exactly is talking? Try jotting down what you hear in this stream of constant thoughts. Then examine what you wrote. Ask yourself: Do I agree with what I thought? Is it true? Can I be sure?
You know ego is the narrator when you hear things like:
“I know exactly how this will play out.”
“This means that…”
“I know it won’t work because…”
“I was excluded…”
“That was unfair.”
If you’re embarrassed or ashamed about what you’re thinking, remember you are not your thoughts. They aren’t you until you give them your agreement and belief. You don’t have to agree with the ego’s narration. You don’t even have to listen to it. You get stressed out by your thoughts only when you start believing them wholeheartedly.
Practice #2 You Go First.
When you start judging others or feeling resentment about what you perceive you’re not getting, turn that energy back toward your own evolution. Here’s what I mean: Say you are in a discussion and are frustrated because you believe that the other person is not listening to you. As soon as you fixate on that, neither person in the conversation is listening. You have the power to fix the problem in the moment. If you think it is so easy to listen, you go first. Give to the other person what you think is missing and what you wish to receive. Break the stalemate by going first, listening intently, and being the change you wish to see in the world.
Practice #3 Open Heart, Open Mind.
The heart and the mind are connected. When you open one, the other is bound to follow. When you get stuck in judgment with thoughts like They shouldn’t act that way. I would never do that. I don’t act like that, you’ve created an attitude of I am right, and you are wrong. I am good, and you are bad. Work on your mental flexibility by opening your mind. Come up with three different explanations for why someone might be behaving the way they are. What would a kinder, less suspicious, less judgmental explanation be? Then ask yourself: How am I contributing to this situation? What could I do differently to change this relationship dynamic or business outcome?
Another approach is to open your heart. For example, you can temper anger over “They lied to me” by asking “Have I ever lied to anyone?” The ability to find in ourselves what we are judging harshly in others gives us a platform for compassion and understanding. It creates a mind-set of “stop judging, start helping.” This open-heart approach includes letting go of grudges. It takes a lot of energy to keep a story alive, to hold onto the past and to stay “injured.” Opening up your heart is a way to release that negative energy and eliminate emotional waste.
Practice #4 Get Back on Track.
When you find yourself suspicious about others’ motives or behavior, it’s probably a signal you should examine your own intentions and behavior. If you are confident that something dishonest or unethical is going on in your organization, by all means, report it! You should do something about it. Otherwise, suspicion is a good sign that you might want to be suspicious of yourself. Are you trying to control a decision? Protect your self-interest? Resist a change that would benefit you or the organization? Time spent examining your own motives often reveals that the ego is in control. If you find this to be the case, look for ways to neutralize your self-interested thoughts and actions.
Another way you can get off track is with constant thoughts or questions about quitting the job. If you’re convinced the company is making you miserable and you’re constantly thinking about quitting, in a way, you probably already have. At the very least, these thoughts are major distractions from the work you’re being paid to do and signal your unwillingness to be fully committed. If you’re telling yourself a story about why you should quit, it’s a form of hiding out. You never have to be in that vulnerable position of accounting for results. If you are choosing to stay, even if it’s just for today, be all in. Stay in joy. And if you really can’t commit, maybe a better decision would be to go in peace.
Practice #5 Stop Guessing and Inquire.
If you find yourself giving a reluctant “I guess” to these questions, why are you guessing? Get clear so you can give a full-voiced no or yes. True inquiry will lead you back to reality. The ego is suspicious of new information, even in the face of compelling evidence. Proof is the last thing the ego wants to see. The ego likes to hide out in ambiguity. Keeping things vague is a great path to a diverse bucket of arguments from which to choose. Stop guessing, do an investigation, and get clarity.
The leader is delivering reality. The ego’s arguments against reality are projected on the leader. Resistance comes in the form of doomsday predictions or sweeping generalizations. Leaders can desist with the arguing, convincing, and constant directing, which rarely works and doesn’t generate commitment. In fact, it’s an exercise in emotional waste.
Practice #6 Get to the Root with SBAR
The SBAR tool is a useful way to help people process their stories and quickly get to the core issues. The SBAR is valuable for those Open-Door “Got a minute?” sessions. The idea is to help the employee process the story first and quickly bring you up to speed so you can provide help or approval or facilitate a decision. Leaders can more clearly see development opportunities. It’s great for eliminating emotional waste and helping the employee develop great mental processes.
A concise description of the facts, minus drama. What do you know for sure about the current state of affairs? Leaders review, looking for accurate representation and a simple statement of the current reality.
Relevant data that must be taken into account when deciding how to move forward. Leaders look for history and key information the employee is unaware of or is minimizing.
The author analysis, which answers the question “So what?” It should highlight reasons for concern, risks, root causes, and diagnoses. In this section, leaders should look for critical thinking and problem-solving skills and assess strengths and weaknesses. If you see development opportunities, teach by asking good questions and exploring problem-solving techniques.
The author’s proposed action and next steps for improving or resolving the issue. The recommendation is driven by the assessment, and leaders are looking for the quality of the recommendation. Does it address the issue? Is it feasible? Is it in line with company philosophy or strategies? Leaders should work with the employee to find creative solutions and multiple options.