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Leaders, Let Your Ego Go—Here’s How

April 29, 2019 Mark Hannum

“One who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.” —Confucius

Leading is an interesting endeavor. When we first begin to lead, we are open to ideas and feedback. We read, we watch our heroes, we engage in trainings and workshops, and we even take time to reflect. We’re sponges.

But as we become more and more successful, we slow down our learning, rely on the same methods that have always worked for us, and hesitate to change up a formula that’s had past success.

We still may be experiencing promotions and additional responsibilities, but our “leadership way” has plateaued. As we develop as leaders, we become less open to feedback and new ideas. And we don’t take time to reflect—we’ve become too busy, and we don’t see value in spending time in training.

Why do we stop learning and growing as leaders? The issue here isn’t that we don’t have enough time for introspection or that we haven’t built a satisfactory level of competence in our roles. The true issue at play here is ego. As we progressed and moved up in our careers, we learned to protect our identity and reputation. We moved into actively protecting ourselves—including our legacy and all of the things we have built through our success.

In short, we’re trapped.

Here’s the good news: For any leader who has found him- or herself in this ego trap, there are many ways out.

The following are simple practices that leaders can engage in to keep their egos in check and continue to evolve:

  • Find your way back to spending a decent amount of time reflecting.
  • Reengage yourself with some future need that will inspire you and motivate you to change.
  • Be vulnerable enough to adapt a beginner’s mind. Essentially, you must be willing to think in a new way about your beliefs.
  • Challenge yourself and the world about what is and is not true. Leaders who avoid this trap ask my favorite question—How did I get this wrong?—before they act, not after.

Here’s something to keep in mind as you strive to keep your ego in check: Many great innovators, including Steve Jobs, have had “strong beliefs, loosely held.” They have strong self-esteem and confidence in their abilities and methods. But they also change course any time a better option arises that is in keeping with their values and goals. And what’s more, they actively seek those better options by adopting a growth mindset.

These leaders understand that to change the external world, they first must change themselves. When we change how we perceive the world, how we think about and understand the world, and how we act in the world, we will begin to grow again as leaders.

How do you keep your ego in check to continue to grow as a leader? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Organizations striving for superior results need to develop leaders who inspire, engage, innovate, achieve and commit to leading purposefully. Learn more about Linkage’s Purposeful Leadership® approach and the five commitments that leaders need to make to create greater impact.

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