Being a servant leader is one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors that one can embrace.
For some, the concept of leadership invites thoughts of power; the notion that “I have earned this dominion over others so that I may direct them as I feel they need to be directed.” Others believe that with their talents and life experiences, the awarding of the title, “leader,” is an entitlement; some type of reward they are owed based on what they have accomplished.
The true servant leader sees leadership as the opportunity to serve others, to influence the team and surrounding environment to produce long-lasting, impactful results and to encourage development of similar leadership traits in others.
With any of these beliefs, leaders often find themselves confronted by something that is both one of the greatest gifts AND one of the single largest enemies of leadership. This combination of gift and enemy within one entity can be confusing and beguiling. We need this gift in small doses in order to move forward with confidence. In these situations, it is a necessary companion on our Life journey. However, when it grows sufficiently, it passes the point of empowering us and instead, destroys us and everything around us.
What is this “thing” that is both an empowering, enlightening gift and a disempowering, destructive foe?
It is our ego.
Our ego, in the correct amount, provides us with the self-confidence that propels us to use our gifts appropriately in the service of others. It enables us with the oomph to keep moving when times are challenging. As ego helps us move forward, the Universe often rewards us by manifesting blessings in many ways.
However, many times our ego, which has been our healthy and enabling companion, takes a look at this manifestation and thinks, “Hmmm … I must be pretty good to manifest this. I wonder what else I can manifest if I put my mind to it?”
The ego, having forgotten that the “royal we” produced the abundance together, begins to assert itself as the master of its domain. It takes actions assuming that only it knows the right way to do things; that only it has the knowledge needed and, in the end, it can only count on itself to gets things done. It embraces the belief that “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”
What further exacerbates the situation is that ego has, as part of its self-defense mechanism, the belief that everyone else has an ego that is intentionally conspiring to knock it down from its lofty perch. To protect itself, it proactively attempts to weaken the ego of others with thoughts of distrust, hurtful words, action to disable others, and other non-collaborative efforts.
This results in leaders and the teams they serve dissolving into a tense, combative, exhausting conflict of wills, and a struggle to establish who is smartest, most able, most capable, or most whatever. However, what the ego most fears is our Spirit, the part of us we can’t see but we know is there.
The Spirit recognizes our gifts and allows us to recognize the gifts of others. It allows us to embrace the belief we are all in this together, and the best way to make a difference and exert impactful influence is by bringing our gifts together.
Just as a leader who leads with ego finds egos responding in kind, the leader who leads with Spirit finds the Spirit of others responding in return.
- The Spirit that says, “I honor the gifts within you as I know you honor the gifts within me.”
- The Spirit that is built upon love, trust, collaboration, learning and sharing.
- The Spirit that is built upon serving others, not ruling them.
If you have too little ego, you become the world’s doormat. If you have too much, you think the world is your doormat. Neither extreme is healthy and the servant leader seeks to find a balance between the two extremes. As a servant leader, have enough ego to propel yourself to action, but let your Spirit be that which takes action.
My many years of consulting on Wall Street have helped me to ascertain, in a matter of minutes, the level of success enjoyed by a leader and their team. How do I know? It’s simple really. In the first five minutes, I can sense whether the Spirit on the other side of the table wants to hug me in welcome or the ego wants to choke me in an effort to control me.
Our ego says, “I am perfect.” Our Spirit says. “We are perfect.”
When I am sitting across the table from you, does your Spirit or your ego do the talking? How do you know?
In service and servanthood.
This blog was also posted on Northfork Center For Servant Leadership on May 6th, 2010.
While my Musings-in-a-Minute versions of my detailed blogs are usually an abbreviated version of the original blog, my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Ego versus Spirit” is the same given the short nature of this entry.