Imagine you are in a meeting (don't fall asleep on me now) with your boss and several co-workers.
You are discussing a problem the team is experiencing and the best way to solve it.
You feel anxious in the meeting because you've been dealing with this problem for a long time – longer than any of the other meeting participants.
You've researched the situation, considered the options, and in your mind, have concluded there is only one solution.
The question is this: When it's your turn to talk, do you share or showcase your thoughts? Regardless of your choice, it's certain that your ego will play a significant role in your decision.
According to the new book, Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (Or Most Expensive Liability), in this situation, and many others in the workplace, your ego can be your friend or foe. Authors David Marcum and Steven Smith share (notice I said share), amongst other things, how egos can drive us to make major mistakes on-the-job. For example, showcasing your thoughts will most likely be viewed as condescending and can result in your idea be squashed by fellow teammates – even if your idea is a good one. The authors offer this reasoning as to the value of sharing in a way that fosters collaboration:
"In the arithmetic of true brilliance, any number (you) multiplied by only one (your solo effort) is only equal to the original number (you, by yourself). The likelihood of success for that equation requires once-in-a-lifetime brilliance – which isn't a sound strategy. While great ideas will continue to spring from the minds of the brilliant few, the vast majority of smart ideas and excellent execution are waiting for the rest of us. Being smart will, as long as the group is diverse, contribute to brilliance. Laboring to be the smartest person in a room of smart people won't."
The discussion around ego is very important when strategizing on ways to improve a corporate culture, especially, if your company is struggling with generational differences. Consulting with executives on the need to create professional environments that bring out the best in staff members of all ages, the discussion always turns to the unique career realities each generation covets (a.k.a. the beliefs that reflect their sense of right and wrong in the workplace). While reading this book, I immediately thought of at least a half dozen stories shared with me by clients in which we discussed how the egos of their talent, fueled by diverse career realities, were getting in the way of their ability to connect and work effectively together.
For Marcum and Smith, keeping egos in a healthy state requires three traits: humility, curiosity and veracity. In their book ,they offer the four early warning signs that ego is negatively impacting the workplace: being comparative, being defensive, showcasing brilliance, and seeking acceptance. They also discuss ways in which ego can be brought back into alignment and used to its fullest, best potential.
In my practice, we use the Interaction Style Assessment Test to help employees understand the differences in their approaches to communicating with one another. Coupled with some coaching on the best way to, as Marcum and Smith so wisely articulate, share instead of showcase – the result is acceptance of others points of views, and more importantly, the manner in which they are presented.
Taking a closer look at the good, bad and ugly of our egos in the workplace is an insightful process. Shouldn't we all ask ourselves on a regular basis, “How's my ego affecting my career?" Let's face it: depending on how much our ego has already taken control of our professional identities, the ability to answer the question honestly is the real challenge, isn't it?
Are you or your company experiencing ego-related challenges? If so, what's being done to fix them? Share with us!