Updated: Sep 8
a person's sense of self-esteem or self-importance. "a boost to my ego"
Psychoanalysis: the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious; and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. "It talked about relaxing the grip of your ego and emptying your mind."
Philosophy: (in metaphysics) a conscious thinking subject. "According to Heidegger, a tendency to suicide is the ontological essence of the human ego."
We always start our weekly team meetings off with one of three mindful moments:
A few weeks ago, our Engineering Manager and Project Execution Office Lead, Mahesh, sent a text asking if he could provide our Mindful Moment. We always welcome team engagement and I especially enjoy Monday's with Mahesh (it's kind of a thing!) Mahesh brings a different vibe to start our meetings, sometimes he has us breathe and reflect, and other times, he encourages us to give gratitude in the moment, actually articulating thanks out loud to each other as we breathe to ground ourselves in starting our meeting. It's an excellent experience anytime it's offered, and I always accept!
This month's Monday with Mahesh was a bit different and was very insightful, especially as we see the way of the world in the past few years. Mahesh brought forward insights and concepts for us to consider on ego; the part of us that many don't acknowledge or like to acknowledge.
If you're an avid Helios blog follower, or a Pocket Change podcast fan, you've no doubt heard my thoughts on resiliency, leadership or social networking. These are areas that impact our ego, how we see ourselves in the world, and how we want others to see us.
When we discuss ego, people often believe that it's something to hide or dismiss - you'll hear things like, "Leave your ego at the door" or "No egos allowed on this project". The reality is that everyone has an ego, it's a part of who we are, it can be both our biggest strength or our greatest weakness depending on how we choose to use it.
In terms of a positive use of our ego, it can be the root of our willpower and resilience, it can help us keep going when the going gets tough and can also help us grow; it invites vulnerability, which helps build trust and empathy. Conversely, ego can also be interpreted as a signal of arrogance, which turns people off and when over-used, can actually lead to a lack of willpower and exhaustion. Those who lean into their ego a little too robustly can also become defensive, reducing their resiliency and vulnerability, thus leading to a lack of connection with others. This just stands to further alienate people who are egotistical, as their defensiveness comes across as superiority or results in blaming others for their shortcomings.
I once consulted on a large operational integrity management process improvement project with a handful of other consultants; it was an engaging project in a well-established conventional oilfield; there were roughly 1200 impacted stakeholders and of those, about 235 leaders that would be accountable for leading and implementing the change in the field. The primary client was a wonderful person who was humble and servant in his leadership style - he was easy to work with because of his good nature and willingness to always learn. The primary consultant who was retained to manage this large-scale program was much less humble and much less servant in his leadership style. He was quite "command and control", however, always wanted everyone to think he was much more humble and servant than he was. (He was a terrible actor.)
I remember him walking into a room of about 25 Operations Leaders in the field (in his crisp, creased jeans and vibrantly coloured polo), having come in as the meeting was starting, not in time for coffee and mingling; he stood at the front of the room and told the leaders: "You've already forgotten more about oil and gas than I'll ever know..."
In that moment, everyone made their mind up about him. You could see it and feel it in the energy in the room.
It doesn't seem like an overt admission of an enormous ego, but to someone who already didn't want to be in the room, who had other things to be working on, who didn't see the value in the re-implementation of something that "seemed" to be working, this was a direct shot in terms of lack of authenticity. He was attempting to be humble, to show that he didn't know it all (or create the perception that he didn't, because frankly, he thought he did), but he failed miserably.
What he should have done was introduced himself, and spoke about the problem statement - focusing any element of the change on himself or trying to engage by underselling his competence was a mistake. We lost them in that moment, and it turned into a social triage exercise before we were able to gain productivity in the workshop.
I can assure you, that was not the only instance of the egocentric behaviour that drove results and productivity down, and it was ultimately the leading reason why I left that organization and no doubt a part of the reason the consulting firm lost their clients and ended up folding.
Ego matters. Managing your ego matters more.
So how do you optimize your ego for your benefit and minimize it for your detriment?
Here are some tips on how to reign in or use your ego for good:
Accept Praise - but don't buy it hook, line and sinker! There is ALWAYS room to grow; we're never done!
Be a lifelong learner - only "Legends in Their Own Minds" don't keep learning; it's impossible to know everything, welcome opportunities for feedback or areas for growth.
Compete with yourself - Comparison is the thief of joy and the erratic driver of ego.
Use your ego to face your fears - this links into your self-confidence and your lifelong learning journey. You have to grow through the things that you experience in life.
Witness and observe your ego - observe everything you put after the word "I" - this will give you a good indication of how you interact with the world. How do you speak about yourself? How do you expect others to perceive you? Do they align?
Witness your triggered ego - observe yourself when you have a trigger that comes your way - how do you respond? What is the vibe you put off? Do you treat people with respect when your ego is triggered? What does your ego tell you?
Curious about how your ego plays into your leadership style or team productivity? Want to learn how to tame your ego or amp it up for growth? Reach out, a call doesn't cost a thing!