Ego gets in the way of empathy and listening, both of which are critical to learning. But it's not easy to turn off your ego. In setting such a goal, you are working against the natural inclination of the brain. You have to be willing to look closely at your mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with you, and to allow the best thinking and ideas to rise to the top.
In the past, our culture really admired people with big egos. We called them our fearless leaders, MVPs, visionaries, and go-getters. We respected these confident and successful folks for appearing to having all the answers. They were all too happy to stand their ground and argue their point, and we saw this as a sign of strength and leadership.
Today, I've learned from taking leadership training at the Graduate School USA in Washington, DC that having a larger-than-life ego are fast becoming liabilities. The ego is the mortal enemy and humility is one of the traits most likely to guarantee success in the 21st-century workplace.
Don't believe me? Ask yourself this: Have you ever met someone with a big ego who was really good at being open-minded? Really good at reflectively listening? At putting himself in another’s shoes? At playing well with others? At blowing you off because they think they are more important than you are? At saying, “I don’t know,” “Your idea is better than mine,” or, “You’re right”? Didn’t think so.
I believe if you want to be an effective leader, you are going to have to rein in your ego and become more team-oriented, despite the challenge of our ego-based thinking. It is our brain’s default position when we naturally seek to reinforce what we already think we know. Also, we have to overcome a lifetime of cultural and behavioral big-ego conditioning.
Here are a few suggestions I am in the process of learning to help me hone my humility:
First, know that you’ll have to work against your brain’s natural inclinations. Quieting our egos actually goes against our very natures! Instead, use high-level and innovative thinking as a team. In order to learn, adapt, and succeed, we have to be willing to look closely at our mistakes and failures, to really listen to people who disagree with us, and to allow the best thinking and best ideas to rise to the top—which requires humility!
Seek objective feedback about your ego. You can’t troubleshoot your ego if you don’t have an accurate picture of what it looks like. Since this isn’t an area in which you can trust your own judgment, have the courage to get people who know you well at work and in your personal life to fill out a 360-degree review about you—one that focuses on your emotional intelligence and your behaviors concerning open-mindedness, listening, empathy, humility, etc.