Your Ego Is Holding You Back

[this is  a fall re-post series re-post]

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 1

I do a little volunteer mentoring. Last year I helped a student group that had gotten stuck. They were working on a design for a community space, bringing together senior students from architecture, engineering, marketing, and business schools. Teams were formed for the weekend, with a juried presentation Sunday afternoon.

I met with them Saturday evening. Most of the other teams had already settled on a design, gotten community comments, done their costing, and were working on their presentations for the next day. A few had even knocked off early to get a good night’s sleep before the next day’s presentation.

The group I worked with were still deciding which design to go with. The were tired, frustrated, and dispirited. After asking questions about their process up to that point, it was clear that there were three “strong personalities”. People who were pushing to get things done, and another four that just wanted to move forward but didn’t know how.

Super Chickens

It was a classic example of “super chickens”. Instead of working together as a team, they were unintentionally pecking at each other in earnest effort to push the group forward. As frustrating as it was for them, it wasn’t really surprising. They hadn’t learned to work in a team. They had, up to now, been rewarded for winning instead of for being helpful. Even if they had played on, say, a sports team, there is still an amazing emphasis on individual stars and personal achievement. Heros aren’t teams. Heros are people.

Leadership is about inspiring a bunch of people to do great things. Sometimes it’s about inspiring a team to do mundane, dirty, or dangerous work in a great way. It’s about taking turns. Contributing without bullying, Collaborating without wanting or needing the credit. It’s providing a service, not stroking your ego.

Yet consistently we seem to train men and women at all levels who believe that to be successful they have to compete and win at everything. And it’s not true. A different and better definition of success, I believe, is the success of the team. Not just the success of the people on the team.

The Hard Work

The hard work of changing our own behaviour, and therefore being able to influence other’s behaviour more effectively, is possible BUT it means making a long-term, consistent, commitment to learning and practising leadership. It means putting in the time and effort. It means adopting a “window and mirror” maturity. When things go well, it means pointing out the window to others and giving them the credit. When things don’t go well, it means looking in the mirror. It means being confident and humble at the same time.  

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 2 – Your Authority Is Meaningless

With a nod to James Clear, “6 Truths About Exercise Nobody Wants to Believe” for the inspiration

Have you ever worked with somebody you felt absolutely had your best interest at heart, even if it meant sacrificing their own?


Your Authority is Meaningless

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 2

My old sergeant would argue he earned his rank, and I would have to agree with him. But that didn’t entitle him to anything. He still had to work hard as a Sergeant. Positional authority is the power you get by virtue of your rank, role, seniority, assignment. This is authority given you from some authority, generally recognized within that organization as being earned because of past performance.

Technical authority accrues when peers and co-workers recognize your subject matter expertise in a particular field. Peers consult you , ask your opinion, and often your opinion is the deciding factor in a decision in that domain. Think of any medical examiner in a TV crime show.

The Strongest Relations

These are weak forms of influence when compared to relational authority. Relational authority comes from the connection between people. Some people seem naturally gifted at making connections. Like being able to walk into a room or fifty strangers, and coming out with 50 new friends. Or being able to build long-term, deep, and reliable connections with people in their community, at work, or building a strong family.

Photo Credit: Charlotta Wasteson

Think of the people in your organization or private life who persuade, interrupt, correct, or hold others accountable without fear, and even strengthening the bond between them and the other while doing so. Who have the competence, credibility, vision, and ability to inspire consistently, at all levels in a company both upwards and downwards.

Not an Accident

This didn’t happen for them by accident. They worked hard at it. They learned how to have those crucial conversations. They practiced their skills, studied, and observed others doing the same. They spent time identifying and developing key relationships in their organization, before they needed them. They did favours without expectation of future reward. They invested time in their network. They chose to value people at least as much as profits or goals.

Relational power is the strongest power by far. It is often what we mean we say “leadership”. Your authority, or ability, will only get you so far. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a store manager. If you don’t actually care about the people your work with, your rank will only get you so far. If you rely on fear, or bullying, pretty soon for most of us it will backfire. Getting the promotion and that position is only the start.

The Hard Work

Build real, meaningful relationships. Learn how to confront poor performance and bad behaviour without relying on your power over. Spend time with people, and thinking how your word and actions will affect others. Surround yourself with people who are able to tell you things you don’t necessarily want to hear but should, and then listen to them even when you don’t agree with them. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 1 – Your Ego Is Holding You Back
Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants To Hear Part 3 – Forthcoming

With a nod to James Clear, “6 Truths About Exercise Nobody Wants to Believe” for the inspiration

Who do you know that has the most “natural” influence, and why?