In this succinct, 10-part series, “It’s All Ego,” I explore and share many of the ways that our ego, sometimes referred to as our identity or persona, impacts our life in ways that aren’t helpful to us and the people around us. I share some personal insight and examples from my struggle to make peace with my enemy, the ego, that may be helpful to you in your leadership journey.

Part 1 | An Open-Mind Sets Aside The Ego

When our ego is in play, we are typically close-minded to new ideas, possibilities and opportunities, including new relationships. Rather than being curious and saying, “that’s interesting, tell me more,” when our ego is in play we might outwardly say, “hmm, I’ll think about it and get back to you” or perhaps, “thanks, but no thanks.” Internally, however, our dialogue maybe something entirely different or like, “I don’t think so, I don’t care what you think or what do you know?” An open-mind is willing to learn and receive feedback, new ideas and possibilities. To be open, though, we need to learn to set aside our ego and give up ‘being right’ and believing we know more than everyone else. We all experience times when we are being open minded and when we are being closed-minded. Our challenge is to recognise when we are being close-minded and give it up in the moment to embrace a new idea. Being the master of our ego, rather than the slave is being able to give something up in the moment to be open to new ideas.

Part 2 | Drama Is All About Ego

Are you a drama ‘queen’ or ‘king’? Do you know anyone you consider to be a drama ‘queen’ or ‘king’ or, at least, appears to you to be highly dramatic? Being dramatic is one of the ways our ego shows up. When life throws difficult challenges at us, our ego can come to the fore, because, for the ego, “I am most important” and, “it’s all about me.” The drama we see in others is simply the ego acting out, because, “I am more important than everyone else,” the ego makes my problem everyone else’s problem. Along the way I’ve learned the hard way that sharing a problem with someone is distinct from making my problem their problem to solve, which is what I tended to do. When the ego is not running the show, rather than being dramatic, we are calm and reflective. Rather than reacting, we process the information at hand and ask our self, “what am I going to do about this?” The next time you see someone being dramatic, consider it’s not really them but their ego acting out. This may help you bring understanding, generosity and compassion to them.

Part 3: Avoidance Is About Ego

Do you like being held to account? Promising to do something and then being held to account is something I used to fight. Even though it was my promise, I’d get angry, resist, complain and make it everyone else’s problem. I came to realise this was my ego acting out and it had me avoid being responsible for my life. My ego didn’t like being held to account or being told what to do. The anger I experienced and expressed was my ego reacting to someone holding me to account by saying, “you said you’d do it, so do it.” I used to complain about rules too, thinking they shouldn’t apply to me because, “they don’t make sense.” In hindsight, this was another way my ego allowed me to avoid being accountable and it showed up as me being arrogant. Thankfully, I grew and learned to set aside my ego and simply do what I said I would. Remarkably, I discovered it took considerably more energy to resist what I’d promised to do than to actually do the work.

Part 4 | Ego Is Boastful

Are you boastful? Have you ever met someone who boasts or brags about their past accomplishments and how well they are doing? They love to brag about their latest holiday, flashy new car or the latest gadget they’ve just purchased. Talking ourself up is a sure sign our ego is in play. It wants to let everyone around us know just how important and great we are. Indeed, it is a fine line between being proud of our accomplishments and boasting about them. This is where our ego takes over. When talking about our achievements, our ego, unfortunately boosts our sense of self-importance. This is detrimental to our relationships because the more we talk ourself up the more we diminish the people around us. Rather, we need to set aside our ego and actively choose humility. Acknowledge and give away as much credit as possible to others. This practice says we’re equal and not better than anyone. This builds strong relationships and is essential for a leader to build effective teams as well be a great team player.

Part 5 | Ego Is Defensive

How graciously do you accept compliments? Will you receive contributions from others? If not, chances are your ego is being defensive. Rather than accept a compliment and say “thank you,” our ego dismisses or rejects it with comments like, “what would you know?” or “I don’t care what you think, my opinion of myself is more accurate.” Similarly, rather than graciously accepting the support that is offered, our ego pushes it away with, “thanks, but I don’t need your help, I can manage just fine by myself.” Being defensive to contribution is just our ego being unwilling to show weakness or vulnerability by rejecting support and help from others. In fact, without the support and contribution from others, I know I will never reach my full potential. Over the years, I’ve learned that accepting contribution is totally about acknowledging the other person. This is why our ego struggles with contribution because “it’s not all about me, it’s about them.” Rather, the practice of setting our ego to one side, and being vulnerable and receptive, acknowledges the contribution of others. This builds strong relationships and is essential to empower others and build effective teams around us.

Part 6 | Ego Is Over-Indulgent

Are you over-indulgent? Do you engage in activities or hobbies that are solely for the purpose of making you feel good? Over the years I’ve had many hobbies and interests. I love to play squash, go to the gym, swim and cycle. I’m also an avid choral singer and I like to go ballroom dancing. The list goes on. On the surface I seem to be actively participating in life and there is nothing wrong with this. Or is there? My hobbies are intended to ‘make me feel good.’ They support me to maintain a positive state of well-being, especially exercise, which has obvious health benefits, and I want to continue to be healthy as I get older. However, our ego can cause us problems by becoming excessive or obsessive with our interests. The ego is “all about me” and if left unchecked, it will lead us to do things that provide us more and more pleasure and ‘feel good’. Typically, hedonistic activities only provide us with short-term feel-good or wellbeing so we are always seeking out our next dose of feel good. This is how addictions arise. Unfortunately, spending too much time in selfish activities that are “all about me” may lead to big problems if we ignore our family, career or relationships. We can have too much of a good thing. Keeping our indulgent ego in check is key to maintaining a balanced life.

Part 7 | Ego Is Resistant

Are you defiant? Do you resist change? Do you struggle with demands being made of you or think that some rules shouldn’t apply to you? If so, it is likely your ego is in play. Our ego loves to be the centre of attention; “it’s all about me.” Our ego “knows best” and more to the point, “what’s best for us.” Therefore, when our ego is activated, we remain closed and not open to new ideas and suggestions from others because “what do they know?” Similarly, when we are asked to obey or follow rules our ego causes us to be defiant because “I know better.” Unfortunately, being resistant has a big impact on others around us as well as on us. We are seen as self-righteous, difficult and unwilling to change. This is unhealthy and causes isolation because no one wants to be around someone like this. Being difficult causes people to give up on us because we are just too hard or too much work. Conversely, being open builds healthy relationships. An attitude that welcomes suggestions and feedback empowers people around us and encourages their contribution.

Part 8 | Ego Is Insensitive

Are you inconsiderate? Is it difficult for you to express sensitivity? If so, then perhaps your ego is getting in your way. When I was much younger I used to struggle being considerate and sensitive with others. Simply put, my ego needed things to be, ‘always about me.’ To my ego, I came first. When someone shared a sad or difficult experience, rather than express sympathy or compassion, or ask them what they needed, I’d be dismissive and say, “I know,” and proceed to share my own similar experience. If someone was in pain, I was sure I had experienced more pain. It was a form of one upmanship that, looking back, I am ashamed of. On other occasions, I’d often say things without really thinking through how it might land with them or whether or not they were in a state of mind to hear what I had to say. In both cases, I simply wasn’t being present. My ego’s need to have the focus on me prevented me from being compassionate or caring. Being insensitive kills relationships. Really. It leaves others feeling uncared for and with the sense that they don’t matter. Thankfully, however, I’ve since found that getting into someone’s world and asking them genuinely what they need validates them and nurtures my relationship with them.

Part 9 | Ego Is Reactive

Are you quick to react? Do you often reply to questions or comments in a blunt manner? When I was a young adult I struggled a lot with this. When questioned or challenged, often I would react quickly and say something blunt like, “really?” or simply, “I disagree.” Often, it wasn’t so much what I said but more the tone of my voice that conveyed disbelief or scepticism. I was frequently unaware of what I did, and at times, I would involuntarily roll my eyes or show contempt on my face. In time, I came to understand that I reacted this way because my ego was activated. My ego protected me. It was more concerned with being “right” and being understood than it was about being understanding. I wasn’t open to ideas that challenged my status quo or my beliefs because I didn’t feel comfortable or “safe.” In recent years, I have found it is far more valuable and life giving to seek to understand others rather than try and make myself understood by them. This is the motto and practice I now live by to build and nurture healthy relationships.

Part 10 | Ego Is Self-Absorbed

Have you ever been told “it’s not all about you?” Do you tend to get absorbed in your own world and have little time or energy for others? I used to struggle with this. I am analytical. In the past I have spent a lot of time in my own head trying to figure things out. What do I think? What will others think? What should I do? What experience can I share here? The list goes on. My ego is always concerned with everything about me. When my ego is activated, I am self-absorbed and focused on my needs and what I want. I am not present for others, nor am I sensitive to, or aware of their needs. I am not able to be compassionate or contribute to others. The opposite of being self-absorbed is to be altruistic; to be selfless or less concerned with the self. Effective leadership requires us to be altruistic, a good proportion of the time, to support and develop people around us to become the best version of themselves. I found that learning to set aside my ego to be available to others is really challenging, yet it has also been the most rewarding experience of my leadership journey.

Does anything I have shared resonate with you? Are you interested in unpacking how your ego is impacting your life? Contact me today to explore the value of 1:1 coaching to make peace with your ego and elevate your performance and the performance of the people around you.