How more eco and a little less ego can transform us
Tony the taxi driver recently celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary at a hotel near Niagara Falls, where, as he told this American while he drove me home this past week from the airport: "The Canadian side is so much better."
After stepping into the loo for a moment, Tony emerged to find his wife had rearranged their hotel room. The sofa was now squarely facing the window overlooking the falls. "She moved everything, so we could sit together and stare out at the spectacular view."
I believe it was the same take-charge attitude that prompted Tony's wife to enrol him in a course designed to boost his confidence.
Tony shared this with me as he explained how frustrated he had become after a series of occasions during which he couldn't remember a person's name or couldn't place an old acquaintance.
"My self-confidence was really struggling," he recalled.
"How did the course turn out?" I asked.
"I don't know," Tony admitted. "I wasn't confident enough to go."
Oh, the irony.
Tony and I talked a bit more. About whether he may indeed have some sort of cognitive impairment - or whether he had become hyper-sensitive to the sort of lapses that most of us experience from time to time.
I don't know. But I do know that Tony's self-awareness is his first step toward addressing what may be an opportunity to develop his abilities and through that, his ego.
Having the capacity to be introspective is part of our awareness as human beings. Psychoanalysts connect our self-awareness to our ego or sense of personal identity.
I reached out to Shane Cradock, a Wicklow based leadership coach, speaker and award-winning playwright who has worked for more than 20 years with an emphasis on ego, or what he describes as an individual's "inner game".
"Both men and women have egos." Shane said. "There has to be a certain level to become a success."
Shane outlines three main areas of ego levels which I'd like to position our couch in front of, so we can examine them together.
1 Strong ego but no awareness
According to Shane, one of the biggest problems in business leadership (and might I add governments) today concerns people who simply do not recognise that they are a problem.
Research shows that once a person gets into a position of authority, their ego inflates. They may begin to interrupt others more often. They might not listen as much as before. If left unchecked, their egos can become so inflated they shut out everyone else around them.
These may also be people whose organisations may make a great profit, but at what cost? "They'll often score themselves high as a role model and I'll ask them, 'How do you know?'," Shane said. "They'll say, we've done these 360s and I'll push back asking, 'How do you know your people are not afraid to tell you the truth?'"
If you're working with a challenging person like this, you're unlikely to change them.
2 Those on the journey
One of the few ways people with very inflated egos can move toward a more self-aware and caring leadership approach is if they are impacted by personal tragedy or loss.
This leads to the second level of the inner game - those people Shane describes as someone who has had an experience that caused them to ask questions. "What am I looking at?" "What is going on here?"
They may not have been a previously inflated-ego leader who is humbled into action, but, for whatever reason, these people are very self-aware and taking close-up and personal responsibility for developing themselves on their own or are working with a coach.
3 Those with a bit of both
The third type is the person who has a developed sense of ego plus a degree of self-awareness. But, Shane says, they do not understand that they can benefit from getting help from someone outside themselves to help them become motivated.
"I think most people are number three. They need to see results - and that those results can make life more enjoyable for themselves and others."
Where do these positive results come from? Well, according to Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management in the US, it comes when we shift from focusing too much only on our own thoughts and begin to deliberately try to walk in the shoes of other stakeholders.
Scharmer wrote a book, Leading from the Emerging Future that presents a framework for moving from what he describes as "ego-systems" to "eco-systems." To paraphrase Einstein, a problem with today's businesses is that many are trying to solve problems with the same consciousness that created them.
That's why Scharmer promotes moving from ego-systems to eco-systems by fine-tuning the instruments through which consciousness is created, namely "an open mind, an open heart and an open will".
He also leads a course in this process that Shane attended and found very beneficial.
I don't think this is the same course that Tony's wife enrolled him in but striving to find a leadership model that helps us first better connect to ourselves can then help us seek to better connect with others.
- Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon. Write to Gina care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
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