In my earlier years in my career I rarely backed down of an argument. Naturally, I love a good argument, I love defending my ideas and thoughts. As I wrote in my Behind The Resume` journal entry, I would have made a good lawyer, or so I was told. I vividly remember my days in debate club in high school (Not Alliance Definitely, I would title this article – I went to Alliance if I did), my days in the MBA Class at The Strathmore Business School (here we go) and earlier in my career. I truly relished any chance for a good discourse.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” – Rick Warren
As a young man, there was nothing more gratifying to me than being “seen to be” smart and eloquent. To date, I still struggle with letting go in arguments. Although I have made great progress, I still believe there is more ground to be covered. But in the battle of egos, the loser always wins.
In the battle of Egos, The looser Wins
In our daily interactions, we encounter so many opportunities, to either feed our ego and walk away feeling we have won or embrace humility and therefore learn by acquiring knowledge. Especially in the corporate world and more so in the space I play in – Technology /Engineering, time and time again we go into discussions of design and architecture which sometime quickly deteriorate into ego wars as opposed to sessions to discuss and come out with optimal ideas, in so doing and when the noise is out, more often than not, most positions are held strong not because of their substance but because of either the volumes in which their owners proposed them, the gender or title of those who proposed them or simply those who had the biggest egos.
These differences in opinions fueled by “the disease of me” aka egos, can generally deteriorate into toxic levels within teams if not handled in mature and egoless manner. As a general observation, I have always seen that whenever we tend to have little knowledge or appreciation of what we do not know in an area, our egos tends to take the front seat. This is not only detrimental to our ability to learn , but it also damages the relationships we have with those we interact with and particularly that are more knowledgeable in the areas in consideration.
“Ego=1/Knowledge ” More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.” ~ Albert Einstein
As those in Leadership roles, it is particularly important that we keep our egos in check. For the good of not only ourselves, but also that of those we lead. Our position of privilege as leaders or managers, makes us particularly more prone to want to have our way which can eventually lead to what I referred to here as “Unhealthy Silence or Malicious Obedience”.
In the end, keeping healthy relationships is not about avoiding conflict or fights, it is more so about ensuring that at the end of that interaction, each party involved comes out as a better person than they went in. Each interaction is an opportunity to appreciate that which we do not know and gain knowledge. The only way to do that is to realize that as Ego increases or rises, knowledge decreases at an even greater rate.
In the war of ego, the loser always wins
Plus, Minus, Equal Formula
In order to put our Egos in check, I find the advise from one of the greatest fighters Frank Shamrock quite apt. Three key individuals or groups of individuals can keep us in check – Plus, Minus and Equal. In his book, “Ego is the enemy” Ryan Holiday gives three key areas or stages upon which our egos can show up. During Aspiration, When we Succeed, and finally when Failing.
“For each fighter to be great, they need to have someone better to learn from, someone lesser they can teach and someone equal they can challenge themselves against.” – Frank Shamrock
- The Equal: This is someone who constantly challenges your abilities. The Equal is who we need during your Aspiration stage. To me, as an armature writer, I am constantly reading articles written by friends or LinkedIn connections, I am constantly benchmarking with some of my peers even in terms of career progression and in a positive way striving to learn from them. I must however point out that the greatest equal or benchmark is to compare yourself to who you were yesterday, and not to whom someone else is today. It is a paradox of sorts, but when done with the right intentions, an equal can ensure that we set our aspirations high enough, and see whom we could be, when we select the right equal, then we push each other to greater heights.
- The Plus: This is those better, and more successful than us. Everyday reflection and appreciation of how small we are in the grand scheme of things and appreciating that there is always someone better than us at whatever stage we are in, is a great way to silence and quiet our Ego during the Success phase. Maintaining confident humility is important in this stage as well as in these interactions. Confident humility ensures that as a leader I am able to know how little I know and also how much I am capable of learning.
- The Minus: This is where the greatest growth comes in my view. The minus forces me to spend more time to find ways of improving. This is when I am failing or when I have failed. When we fail, we have a choice to make, learn from it or be crushed by it. In the war against unhealthy ego, our ability to first admit our failures and then learn from them and eventually teach them can prove valuable. Constantly evaluating that which we did wrong and appreciating those lessons keeps us grounded. Through teaching, and mentoring others , It also makes sure that we truly appreciate the lessons from that encounter or process.
In Summary, ego is the enemy, as our ego increases, our knowledge decreases and mostly at a much faster rate. In the war of ego, the loser always wins, so find those three people or groups, the Equals, the Plus and the Minus and work tirelessly everyday at maintaining an attitude of confident humility.
“Lord, Let me be smart enough to know how dumb I am, and give me the courage to carry on anyway. “
The Imperfect Leader.