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Posted: April 06, 2011

The ego of leadership

The good, the bad or the ugly: what's your choice?

Carol Ratcliffe Alm

So why does ego get such a bad rap as in egomaniac, ego driven, or egotistic? Especially when the quality of your leadership depends upon an ego that is effective and active enough to support a small group or an entire organization.

Your ego is designed to help you stand up and stand out. It is designed to protect and provide in the far recesses of our brain the wherewithal for survival. It faces the fear, and does it anyway. Without any ego, your doormat personality prevails.

The bad
The bad rap ego speaks the language of "I" and "my" and "mine". The ego most often equates with having and doing, and lives through comparison to others. "I have more than you do" - or "I want to have more than you do," is the talk of the other ego.

When the bad ego has the opportunity to criticize, complain and condemn, it makes it feel bigger than, better than, stronger than. Being right feeds the bad ego, being right at all costs is dessert.

Anger, hatred, resentment, jealousy, envy are the emotions of the comparative ego and it thinks these are justifiable emotions. Furthermore, it thinks these are caused by someone else; someone else is to blame - which makes us the victim and brings on shame and regret. "What you are doing is preventing me from (fill in the blank with your favorite victim role dialogue)."So goes the game of office politics, business back stabbing and altered expense reports.

The ugly
The ugly is the I-need-to-win-at-all-costs ego. Violence may be an attempt, primitive though it is, to prove my ego right and yours wrong. Embezzling, fraud, ponzi schemes, and insider trading are corporate forms of a violent ego. This is an ego so fraught with fear that it will resort to nearly anything. Witness the Gaddafi ego in Libya, or the ego of a Bernie Madoff or Joe Nacchio.

Any negative story you've written about yourself or your circumstances is mind-made and ego written. The more negative emotion that is attached to your story the more impenetrable the ego becomes.

Ultimately the bad and the ugly ego cut you off from your inherent leadership power. You are what you are thinking. The ego lives in regrets about the past or the fear of the future. But the paradox is that your life, and your leadership, is NOW.

The power to choose
There is, fortunately, an antidote for the bad and ugly, as well as a primer for the good ego. It is choice, the power to choose. Through your free will you have the opportunity to choose the good or the bad or the ugly. And, you can choose responsibility rather than victimhood because the bad and the ugly can't survive there. Taking responsibility gives you your power back.

If your collective egos can handle it, I recommend to many leaders the New York Times bestseller, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It's not for the faint of heart, but it just might readjust your ego and increase the power of your leadership at all levels.

If you are dismissing this topic as too soft or not relevant, I might suggest that you examine which part of you is making this judgment - the good, the bad or the ugly.
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A coveted strengths-based executive and personal coach, successful business strategist, and acclaimed presenter, Carol Ratcliffe Alm is highly regarded for her coaching outcomes, strategy results and powerful presentations. With more than 30 years in corporate leadership and her consulting practice, she optimizes the talent of individuals and organizations through her presence, skill and the insight of her experience. She has served as Sr. Vice President of the Gallup Organization and Associate Dean of the Daniels College of Business at University of Denver. She may be reached at carol@carolalm.com or http://www.linkedin.com/in/carolalm

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Readers Respond

I love the article. I've always said that trying to get business people to get together is like herding cats and that's because they have such distinct ego's. I think that is a REQUIREMENT for running a business. It manifests itself in many ways, but it's always there. That's why so MANY people think that they can run a business and so few can. Another maligned word is control. We ALL try to control our environment and the trick is to not hurt anyone in the process, but business people, almost by definition, MUST control many many things or fail By John Wray on 2011 04 06

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