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Guest Commentary: Is It Time For An Ego And Empathy Check-up?

“Humility is paramount to keeping the ego in check. Fault-finders diminish morale and organizational energy. Ego-driven leadership is toxic at best,” writes Dr. John Passante.

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John Passante is a broad-based senior executive with over 30 years of extensive organizational development and senior human resource experience with progressive corporations involved in multiple locations, both domestic and international.

We all are aware of the importance of an annual physical, which provides us with professional feedback regarding our health and well-being, in addition to recommendations on actions we can take to improve our health and increase our longevity. It is with this in mind, that I ask the question: Is it time for an ego and empathy check-up? The ego is an interesting element of life and leadership. It is our self-worth, self-respect, self-confidence and self-image.

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The fact is, we all have an ego.

The challenge is to control it – how we act, react and behave. The ego can sneak up on us. It can either damage relationships or foster and enhance relationships.

The ego can make us feel special or seek approval, yet at the same time it also can make us feel inadequate. The ego can make us feel superior to others or inferior to others. How is that for conflict?

I suspect we have all encountered a leader or boss who has to always be right. Which perhaps shows their insecurity. A true leader with a healthy ego has the ability to say “I was wrong. I accept responsibility.”

Now that is a refreshing notion. These special leaders who are willing to display their human side are truly secure, and view their role as a developer and builder of people. They put empathy and authenticity ahead of having a controlling ego. It takes a very self-aware and secure leader to face the possibility that encouraging others to reach their potential may result in the employee passing by the leader. Without question, the ego can be and is a huge barrier to people working together. It can highjack teamwork and erode productivity and customer service.

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Ego-driven leaders view themselves as the end-all and the be-all. The center of the universe. And lead with their ego-driven agenda, their self-gratification comes before everything and everyone else. Have you seen this individual in your career? Sadly, I know the response is yes!

The telltale signs of an ego-driven leader:

  • They need to be noticed, all the time
  • They seek to win, at any cost
  • Tend to take credit for the ideas of others
  • They keep score, in a negative way
  • They drive others from the organization
  • They destroy trust
  • Praise is their drug of choice
  • Status is No. 1 with them
  • They put others down
  • Think and act as if they are always right
  • May blame others during difficult business results
  • Set a negative tone in the company

From my point of view, we are all equals with the same needs and aspirations. We all need each other and need to realize that life and business are team sports!

Wisdom from Latin: “Memento Homo”- Remember you are only a man.

Humility is paramount to keeping the ego in check. Fault-finders diminish morale and organizational energy. Ego-driven leadership is toxic at best. It results in increased employee turnover, poor communications and negative employee attitudes. It is taxing to work for an ego-driven leader. Can you relate? I can!

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Leadership humility is a critical aspect of effective leadership and high-performing organizations. Humility is not the lack of focus or aggressiveness. It is the lack of leadership arrogance. Humility is an awareness of your role and responsibilities as a leader and as a person. Arrogant leaders are bullies. Their business decisions are driven by ego and how to make themselves look good.

Understanding others is one of the keys to being an impactful leader. Empathy is the ability to relate and experience the emotions, feelings and thoughts of others. Many times, empathy is overlooked as an important leadership skill. My view is that leaders today need to be more people focused on the human touch and be able to relate to employees in the office, but also to those on the conference call or in other countries. Empathy influences job performance. Stress is alive and well in today’s competitive business environment. True empathy reduces employee stress.

“You can never understand someone unless you understand their point of view, climb in that person’s skin or stand and walk in that person’s shoes.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Empathy is a tool to manage conflict, resolve problems and to encourage creativity and unity. There is a strong correlation between leading with empathy and a healthy ego because this approach develops, builds and maintains healthy relationships – a critical part of bringing out the best in others. The self-aware and introspective leader knows their true self, what they value and what their goals are. Having a keen understanding that they do not have to be better than everyone else and display a willingness to be open to others and to appreciate what they have.

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It is liberating to get lost in something you are passionate about and to remember to take your team along with you. By not stepping on their egos or self-worth. The beauty of life is sharing our exciting journey of experiences, hopes, feelings and lessons. If we listen and feed just our ego, we will never grow and learn.

“When ego is lost, limit is lost. You become infinite, kind and beautiful” – Yogi Bhajan

The more we let go of our ego, the more we get back in return. As we review our ego and humility (a check-up) and engage in self-reflection, let us all learn to let go of the need to control, forgive more and praise others often. And strive to develop nurturing relationships – with one’s self and with others.

Empathy is the social glue that holds organizations and society together.

How would you rate your organization’s empathy quotient?

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