This is your ego writing. Steve has been talking to people about ego these last few weeks and thought it might be helpful if I wrote a guest column – so here it is. I am an important part of your brain and my louder voice controls much of your success. And, when you do not listen to my quieter voice, I can quickly undermine your success.
There are many stories of how my fellow egos have completely destroyed careers, but that is not why I am writing you. I want you to understand me better so you know how to balance me out.
I tend to be a little long-winded, so grab a cup of coffee or tea or water, put your feet up, and invest a few minutes in understanding, you.
What is Ego? I think most of the time we egos get a bad rap in the media – apparently we are the cause of many business problems. I am a major part of you and impact significantly how you behave both positively and negatively. The word “ego” comes from Latin and means “I, myself.”
In the business world I like how Steve refers to me – I am your self-confidence; ego = self-confidence. If others perceive you have too much of me, they begin to dismiss and avoid you. If they perceive you have too little of me, they ignore or undervalue you.
In you I am like a sliding scale; a self-confidence brightness bar like the brightness bar in your i-Phone. Sometimes you might be too bright and sometimes you might be too dim.
So the key to success is to keep me in balance. I think the book Egonomics by David Marcum and Steven Smith does a great job explaining how to do that. They point out that most of the time you keep me in balance. But then some event triggers me to push things out of balance – cause you to behave in a manner that hurts how others perceive you. Marcum and Smith point out that I might help you shine 95 percent of the time and then make you act poorly just once and wipe-out most of the goodwill you had previously established.
Let me summarize what Marcum and Smith say are early warning signs and three basic ways to regulate or balance me in these circumstances.
Early Warning Signs. Marcum and Smith write that there are four early-warning signs of when your ego might be getting out of balance – when you become comparative, become defensive, showcase your brilliance, or seek acceptance. The first three occur when you mostly have high self-confidence and the fourth is usually when you have low self-confidence.
- Being Comparative. You compare yourself to other people, this is natural. And competition, which is often motivating, is a common form of comparison. Here are a few symptoms your ego might be out of balance because of being comparative.
- You begin to think about acting in a way that makes a colleague your competitor so as to make yourself look better.
- You become obsessed with your goals over the team’s goals or making sure others see how well you are achieving your goals. Perhaps you even use co-workers to advance your own success.
- Because other people do not go along with your idea, you shut them out, you stop communicating with them. You take your ball and go home.
- You think others are being treated better than you when in reality they are not and you begin to develop a bad attitude.
- Being Defensive. Inside you is a “power station” that protects your identity, which is your character, values, viewpoints, strategies, and ideas. When your identity is threatened, usually when someone else says something or fails to do what you want them to do, you might begin your defense. You might feel a compelling need to prove you are right or that someone else is wrong. When you feel defensive, the problem is within you, not within the other person. Your loud ego voice is telling you to defend and your quiet ego voice is telling you to stop and think about why you are upset. And when your loud voice wins, you lose. Your stature is now getting diminished. Marcum and Smith summarized it well when they wrote, “Don’t confuse criticism of your ideas with criticism of your identity.” And, “If we don’t take it personally when your car is leaking, why do you take it personally when your strategy is questioned?”
- Showcasing Brilliance. Perhaps you are a very smart person. Perhaps you have always been at or near the top of your class and do well on exams. Perhaps you are a person everyone turns to for help with problems. Naturally then, you should have acquired self-confidence. But when you begin to showcase your brilliance your ego is likely out of balance. As Marcum and Smith write, “There is an inverse relationship between amassing knowledge and learning; the more we know, the more confident we become. When our confidence in what we know increases to the point where we think there’s little left to learn, we’re less open to learn. And the more we expect people to recognize, appreciate, or be dazzled by our brilliance, the less they listen, even if we do have better ideas.” If these symptoms resonate with you, your ego may be out of balance.
- Seeking Acceptance. This early warning signal is for you if you have low self-confidence, when your ego’s loud voice is saying, “You are not good enough.” You may be anxious for acceptance and your behavior actually may be detrimental to your reputation. Perhaps you are easily persuaded by people who over-compliment you to get their way (brown-nose). Maybe you fail to speak-up against a team’s flawed strategy because you are afraid the group will dislike you. As Marcum and Smith write, “When too little ego deprives us of a healthy sense of self, getting approval from others is our primary motive and a consuming distraction to making a contribution.” If these symptoms sound familiar, beware your ego may be out of balance.
Three Ways to Balance your Ego. Marcum and Smith’s research suggests that people with balanced egos seem to use three regulating behaviors – they practice humility, they are curious, and they have veracity.
- Humility. Humility is actually the mid-point on the self-confidence/ego brightness bar. It is that place where you are confident in yourself, but understand you have much to learn and improve. Humility has three unique properties:
- We, then me. A devotion to forward progress first for the team, then yourself.
- I’m brilliant, and I am not. Embracing a duality when you can lead people in one moment and be a supportive follower in the next. Actually be able to say, “I am wrong” sometimes. And when someone says, “You are right,” you find a way to engage the person so as to make your idea even better. People who practice humility often make fun of him/herself and do not take themselves too seriously, especially in situations where they are just, wrong.
- One more thing. This is what is referred to as “constructive discontent.” People who practice humility are not satisfied with the status quo, they always want to improve. This is a positive energy that never lets you feel over-confident. This allows you to welcome input from others so as to improve how things work.
- Curiosity. People whose egos are in balance use questions so they can learn, they put energy into learning, not dominating other people. People with balanced egos or levels of self-confidence use curiosity along with humility to deal with the four early warning signs. Marcum and Smith found that these people placed the pressure of comparison on ideas, not people; used curiosity to unbolt their defensive positions; “reopened the box of knowledge” to extinguish the glow of showcasing brilliance; and when encountering someone who was seeking acceptance, patiently asking questions to validate that person’s ideas.
- Veracity. Veracity is the pursuit of and adherence to truth. Think about this for a moment…one whose ego is in balance understands what they think might be wrong. If you have veracity, you want to pursue the truth even if it means your original idea might be wrong, or maybe only slightly out of whack. Marcum and Smith remind mid-level leaders that veracity means they should “hear down” and “speak up.” They go on to remind our egos that if we believe dissent is disloyalty, we have closed our mind.
I know we egos are very influential, but now I realize how tricky we are to understand. Steve really likes the six affirmations in the book Gratitude and Trust by song-writer Paul Williams and Tracey Jackson. I can see that most of these involve us, the egos. I think understanding them can help you be successful.
- Something needs to change, and it’s probably me.
- I don’t know how to do this but something inside me does.
- I will learn from my mistakes and not defend them.
- I will make right the wrongs I’ve done whenever possible.
- I will examine my behavior on a daily basis.
- I will live in love and service, gratitude and trust
If you get nothing else from this letter I hope you get this – pay attention to symptoms of when my loud ego voice is drowning out my quiet, self-regulating ego voice. It will make all the difference.