Ego in a leader is like a bad smell, it gets detected miles away.
Just think for you how unattractive the ego trait is in someone you know who’s world centres completely around them?
To be honest ego centric is not something exclusive to high powered leaders, in fact we all suffer from it to varying degrees. It’s based on a deluded view of who we are and how we relate to others.
‘Many of us insist the main impediment to a full, successful life is the outside world. In fact, the most common enemy lies within: our ego. Early in our careers, it impedes learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure, it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back.’ Ryan Holiday author of Ego Is The Enemy
So why are many successful leaders ego maniacs? (e.g. a certain Mr. Trump) well it depends on how you measure success. If you measure it in material wealth, building a big business or popularity then it’s probably got something to do with leading with fear, bullish behaviour, ruthlessness, sensationalism, etc., all traits of ego mania.
From Ryan Holiday’s book: Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. “When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes—but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.”
How Do We Develop Humility?
We need to change how we view ourself and others. Preciousness is in the eye of the beholder. For a dog a bone is precious with no regard for a diamond. For a person a diamond is precious with little regard for a bone. Therefore what’s precious depends on how valuable it is to us.
For a leader the people supporting his cause are precious. S/he knows that
- without them little will be achieved
- the cause is much bigger than the leader
- for the cause to continue it requires future leaders
- and inspiring others to be leaders is the wisest thing any leader can do.
Also, the best leaders are those that are continuously learning. Who do these leaders see as their teachers? everyone; young, old, right, wrong, smart, foolish (allegedly).
I remember meeting Warren Bennis in 2009 in San Diego, the grandfather of leadership development. I wrote a blog post about my encounter at the time. Here’s some of what I said:
I met with Warren for about 10 minutes. We chatted about various things. He was very complimentary about the work I am doing in Ireland. He has what I can only describe as a ‘warm’ presence. He oozes humility and imediately makes you feel that you have something valuable to offer. We exchanged a story. He listend to mine with eyes of an eight year old wanting to learn all about life right now. Warren is 82 years old yet makes you believe he is still growing up! He gave me the impression of the ultimate learner. He made my story seem so much more important than his and thanked me for the gift in telling him the story. My only regeret is that I was not as present for his story as he was for mine. This was not helped by the fact that I was wondering if this was for real or a dream!
Leadership is a practice. Have a go at seeing everyone as precious, work at it mindfully day in day out and not only will you develop humility but you will make yourself feel so happy (indeed you’re the only one that can!).