Managing your ego is one of the best things you can do, not only for effective collaboration, but for saving your own time, energy and focus, not to mention living your #bestlife and having satisfying, enhancing relationships.
But perhaps that is something we intuitively already know, given that one of our most read articles of all time is this one – on how to tame our egos. We thought the topic merited a revisit in a bit more depth, given the theme of our forthcoming MAD World Summit on 12th October 2023 is collaboration.
No matter how much we meditate or how many personal growth books we’ve read, we all have an ego and will never be able to get rid of it completely. It serves an important purpose to protect us and keep us safe. However, it can easily – especially in our comparison fuelled, stressful modern lives – become overactive and unhelpful so we need to learn how to control it.
This takes constant practice and our ability to do it will fluctuate. That’s OK. You’re only human (and if you hear an inner voice berating you for making mistakes – that’s your ego!).
Read on, to discover the essential steps to manage your ego so you can thrive professionally and personally.
Recognise when you are going into ego mode
Here are a few tell tale signs:
- You have a feeling of self-righteous self-importance, with perhaps a sprinkling of superior sanctimony thrown in for good measure
- You are overcome with a need to prove you are right and that the other person is wrong
- You have a strong inner critic who is very judgmental, critical of yourself and others
- You think in black and white terms
- You have an attitude of scarcity and fear, rather than abundance and possibility
- You can feel your nervous system is on edge and you are not relaxed in your body
- You feel very protective and defensive of your opinions
Becky Hall is an accredited life coach, leadership consultant and is the author of The Art of Enough. She explains this further:
“If you’re over-listening to your inner critic, you are in your ego. Watch what it says and you’ll notice there is a lot of ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you must do that’ or ‘you should do that’. It’s really bossy, instructive and full of judgment.
Watch what you say to others, too, and you will find yourself being very binary. The reason why this is not healthy is that it puts our nervous system in a more defensive fight, flight or freeze survival state.
This is not a state where we can be the best version of ourselves. Instead of thinking what we can collectively achieve, we’re thinking about proving ourselves. To perform best, we want to be in a relaxed, active calm state where we have access to our prefrontal cortex and are able to be more reflective and considered.”
You’ve identified your ego. What now?
OK, so you’ve identified you’re slipping into ego mode. Chances are the moment feels quite heated and your nervous system is activated that there’s some kind of threat on the horizon. What do you do now?
Take a break. Have a Kit Kat (or a banana). Breathe.
Companies are notoriously bad at allowing their people to take this much needed time out to regroup, but it could be one of the most valuable, productive actions its employees take in a working day.
Antoinette Oglethorpe was formerly Learning and Development Director for Accenture and is now a coach and author of Confident Career Conversations: Empower Your Employees for Career Growth and Retention.
“One of the worst things we do in business is we put ourselves under that time pressure to keep going without a break. And then your ego really does hijack you as you stay in flight or flight, or don’t even realise you’ve gone into your ego. We must get better at managing our own stress levels and our own agendas in order to do this. But what I still see with leaders especially is that they’re bouncing from meeting to meeting with no time to regroup and get centred again.”
Take time out to build relationships at the start of working together
If you’re working on a collaboration with other departments, egos can often rear their ugly heads, especially if you have to justify or defend your budget against others’.
That’s why – while again counter intuitive to the idea of ‘cracking on’ and ‘being productive’ – the best course of action to quieten all our egos is to take time out at the start of a project to focus on relationship building.
Sir Ian Cheshire is Chair of Land Securities, Chairman of Channel 4, Chairman of Spire Healthcare Group, and chair of Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, as well as the Chair of We Mean Business Coalition – as well as one of our keynote speakers at MAD World.
He believes passionately in the importance of relationships to get good work done. Rather than see relationship-building as a waste of time away from the actual work, Cheshire advocates seeing team development as satisfying job experience in itself, which leads to better results. For him, it’s the “most satisfying” part of his entire career:
“The way we get over assumptions about others and stereotypes, and out of our egos, is by spending enough time with people, getting to know them and engaging authentically, so you discover their talents and thinking styles.
I would always recommend doing that as a precursor to the work itself. But often people just want to crack on. But if you zoom into getting things done that leaves your ego on ‘transmit’. So my one key message would be: take a bit of time upfront.”
Dr. Deb Mashek, is a business advisor, professor, higher education administrator, and national nonprofit executive, as well as author of Collabor(h)ate: how to build incredible collaborative relationships at work.
“It is through relationship quality that we invite our ego defences to come down so the key to undermining our egos is developing high relationship quality.”
The more different views you have around the table, the more egos are going to be triggered
Just being aware of this fact – the fact difference can trigger egos – will help you quieten your ego.
Remind yourself that the more diverse a team, the more innovative solutions it will create, and the more successful companies are. This, again, is a topic Cheshire is well familiar with.
“For a really great team, you need that variety of talents and thinking styles. Imagine if you just had a team of finance people, or HR people, running the world! A lot of the problems I’ve seen with businesses going wrong are down to groupthink, where people have just defaulted to the prevalent point of view and no one brings a different point of view to the table.”
But how do you get out of ego mode and back to your best self?
Let’s imagine you have identified your ego, taken time out to re-centre and taken time out to relationship build. Congratulations! You are doing the work!
However, as we said, this is not a one hit wonder where you tame your ego and it’s faithfully obedient forever more. No, you will constantly have to practice recognising you’re in ego, and finding your way back.
There are several pathways back to the higher path and, some would say, your ‘higher self’. Hill prefers the word ‘soul’, but understands that may sound a bit too woo-woo for a business audience so suggests:
“Instead of thinking about your soul, if that’s too off putting, think about your purpose.
The ego is the part of us that needs constant feeding and reassurance, but soul is interested in our purpose. Try and tap into that, the deeper part of you, to think about what you really want to achieve.
Collaboration is about coming together around a shared purpose. Focus on that, the bigger perspective, and you will transcend your ego. When you are able to do that, you are aligned and can offer the best of yourself to the shared collaborative thinking.”
Use humility to keep grounded and transcending your ego
Arguably, being humble is the opposite of being egoic, so focusing on developing your sense of humility will help you keep your ego in check.
“Another form of ego is that self-righteousness that somehow you’ve got the one right answer. That is ultimately a lack of intellectual humility. It’s assuming you know everything and you don’t see value in the other person’s ideas, expertise or perspective so you dismiss, minimise and sideline them. To overcome your ego here, lean into curiosity to kick up the intellectual humility. Ask: how do you see it? What do you know that I don’t, that can be of value to advancing our shared interest with this collaboration?”
Oglethorpe also adds an important “caveat”:
“Being humble shows interest, curiosity and respect for others but, if you’re too humble, there is also the danger to be aware of being too submissive.”
Basically, behave with humility but don’t be a doormat; even though you may not agree with your collaborators, it is completely acceptable (and necessary!) for you to express your opinion assertively. That doesn’t make you an ego-maniac.
Hopefully you have got the message by this stage in the article that there is no quick fix when it comes to managing our egos and it’s an ongoing process. However, you can speed and streamline the process via self-reflection, especially immediately after collaborative meetings.
“Self-reflection is hard and I’m in the self-development business! But I know I need to really make an effort to make time for it, and think about myself and my reactions in a constructive way. It’s not necessarily what we naturally do in a busy life.”
Think about how much energy your ego wastes and resolve to reduce its impact
Being ego-driven is exhausting. Reacting to every trigger. Over-analysing. Having to listen to the never-ending inner critic rant in your head. The pressure to prove yourself right to others.
One of the best ways to quieten our egos is to focus on how much more energy, and time, you will have to dedicate to your true purpose if you don’t divert energy to your ego.
“If you go into a collaboration, or a meeting, and you’re on the defensive then you will fight your corner. And, yes, someone will win – and that might be you – but someone will also lose. But, you’re in the same business, so that’s a huge amount of wasted energy and resource on unproductive conflicts, both internally in your head and externally with your collaborators! Alternatively, you could go into that meeting clear about your shared purpose and the choices you need to make, but do this with the spirit of co-ownership. You’ll find it much less exhausting. And much more productive.”
In short, be the bigger man / woman. But not in a sanctimonious way (that would be ego!); in a way that recognises the bigger picture and what you want to achieve.