Why Your Ego Might Prevent You From Achieving Leadership Mastery — And How Mindfulness Can Help

In Mindset by Jamie Turner1 Comment

By Gaëtan Pellerin, Author of Mindful NEGOtiation

Most leaders struggle in their roles because they don’t understand what leadership entails. They are often attracted to leadership for the wrong reasons: they want to prove themselves or be seen. They want to control others or increase their power. They want to make more money. They want to communicate their way as being the right way.

The truth is, leadership mastery means being at the service of others, inspiring people around us, and guiding our peers to be their best. It means not being at the forefront of the action or wanting to receive credit for the work done by your team. It means putting out fires, managing multiple priorities, and managing your team’s emotions.

This misperception around leadership comes directly from our ego and the appeal of leadership is our ego hard at work. Being better than others means that our chance of survival is greater. Achieving a higher social status or making more money is our ego telling us that we’re on the path to happiness.

The ego is further stroked by the frequent practice among companies of promoting the best employees (the best “doers”) to leadership roles—the ones with the best technical skills or the most successful sales representatives. And yet, being the one with the best technical skills or the best closing rate in sales does not translate to leadership mastery.

To achieve leadership mastery, we need to strive for results AND inspire our team so they can be their best.

By bringing mindfulness to the table we can better understand the difference between how we should behave versus how we could behave. Mindfulness allows us to focus on what is going on inside of us (bodily sensations, feelings) without judgment, and it helps us to slow down time and gain clarity.

The following tips can help you achieve leadership mastery, even if your ego disagrees.

1) Set your intention. Let’s pause for a moment and connect with your intent. Is taking a leadership role about you and your success? Do you want to prove yourself right and others wrong? Do you want to get credit for what your team achieved? Do you tell people what to do, or are you coaching them to be better?

It takes some willingness to pause and consider this concept of intention. Often, our intention is unconsciously focused on our personal advantages. To help reframe your intentions, ask yourself the following questions:

How can I ensure that I’m helping to strengthen and support my employees or colleagues?

What kind of support do I need in order to be accountable for my reactions or emotions?

2) Don’t assume that your communication is clear and understood. We tend to blame others when they don’t understand our meaning or when they misinterpret our tone.

And yet, how do you know if your communication was clear? Have you ever been in a situation where you said one thing but meant something else?

After setting your intention, the following questions could help you increase the effectiveness of your communication:

Did I put myself in their shoes before my communication?

Was my communication an emotional reaction to an event? If yes, what can I do to avoid any ambiguity?

Is it challenging for me to admit that I can be wrong? If yes, what’s driving that resistance?

3) Invite regular feedback. One of the common problems of leadership is how profound the difference is between our perceptions of ourselves versus other people’s perception of us. If our boss or the HR team is asking to do a 360 evaluation, frequently we are blindsided by the comments received about us:

            Janet bullies her people to get the job done.

            Mark is often emotional during meetings.

            Bob doesn’t have an open mind. It’s his way only.

            Laura can’t decide unless the data proves her point.

Our ego is hurt. We thought that we were doing a better job. It even feels like they might be talking about someone else.

The reality is that most of the time, we are oblivious to how we actually come across to others. And by the time someone is asking for a 360 evaluation, it’s often too late. People already have a set perception of us.

Inviting regular feedback with the intent of learning about our blind spots requires an open mind, humility, and an ability to be mindful. Receiving feedback is not easy. Our ego sees it as a critique and potential threat to our self-worth. However, using mindfulness can help us value regular feedback as a learning opportunity. 

4) Asking for help is not a sign of failure. Climbing the corporate ladder is challenging. The higher we go, the more complex the problems are. The pressure to perform increases, as does the stress level. The higher we climb, the stronger the grip of our ego gets. It wants us to fight to prove ourselves. Every day, we find ourselves in situations perceived as threats to our ego.

However, when pressure is at an all-time high, mindfulness can help us navigate our stress.

When someone asks for help, it is a sign of self-awareness. It shows an ability to look inward and to put aside our inner-critic (another ego-trick) in order to grow.

One of the strongest ways we can support our path to leadership is through executive coaching. The executive coach’s job is to help us see what we cannot and help us realize that we all have blind spots.

Using mindfulness by yourself or with someone else’s guidance can help you become a better leader. Setting your intent about being in service to others, testing in real-time your assumptions around your communication effectiveness, inviting and learning from regular feedback – these are the keys to taming the ego and unlocking true leadership mastery.

About Gaëtan Pellerin:

Gaëtan Pellerinhas spent the last ten years as a negotiation consultant-coach, helping negotiators hone their skills, and prepare and rehearse for their upcoming live deals. His new book is called Mindful NEGOtiation: Becoming More Aware in the Moment, Conquering Your Ego and Getting Everyone What They Really Want. For more information, visit www.navigatesgroup.com.

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