Ego is the curse of good leadership. I have come to believe, out of a lot of painful experience, the ego is a monster under the bed waiting to pounce on leaders, waiting to eat them alive, waiting to suck the life out of worthy ideas.
Here then is my advice to leaders: Don’t let your ego get hold of you. It took a lot of confidence to get where you are. It even took some self-promotion. But now you have arrived. Now is the time for that spiritual journey to get the ego under control. Let go of the notion that you are the reason for your leadership. Let your ideas become bigger than you are. Think hard about why you are leading and not about yourself as a leader.
It is very cool you have been selected to lead, selected to be the manager, senior pastor, dean, department chair, Vice President, CEO. You are at the head of a pack. You feel strong, even powerful. This is when the danger sets in. This is when the monster ego perks up, gets ready for action.
This is when we have to remember it is the good ideas that matter profoundly to the organization you lead. It is not you that matters so much. Spend time thinking and reading and reflecting on those ideas. Think big ideas.
One of the reasons I am so impatient with most books on leadership is that they often portray the leader as the reason for leadership. It isn’t. It is the people you serve as a leader, and it is the ideas that bring all of those good people together for a common work that matters.
I know from experience dissing the ego is hard work, sometimes impossible, but it is the only path to good leadership. We’ve got to kick the ego back under the bed.
This is subtle business. I can always tell, for example, when giving a speech, that point at which good ideas take hold of me. The ego seems to vanish, take a backseat, crawl back under the bed. The audience pays attention. The ideas become front and center, clear and meaningful. The organization moves forward. People feel affirmed, treated with respect. You even start speaking better.
On the other hand, I can always tell when the ego becomes my subject. When you are at the podium, and you get to thinking you are pretty good, pretty cool, your ideas begin to lose weight, sound thin and tinny, lose persuasiveness. You step off the podium feeling cheap. I did not get my ideas across. I just got me across and nobody cares. This is not good. Not good leadership.
So, remember, the ego is mean. It is voracious. It is waiting to get you. Don’t let it get hold of you.