by Terri Jacke, author of “Is This A Lousy Job Or Is It Just Me?: A Real-Life Guide For Achieving Success At Work”
You probably know this already, but our egos can get in the way of our success. Our ability to manage our egos can determine how effectively we perform our roles, lead changes, and influence others.
I can still recall my first significant workplace encounter with my needy ego which occurred when I was 26 years old. I had the opportunity to develop and implement a new work order system while working at a Fortune 500 manufacturing organization. I studied the existing system used by the large engineering team to request and track fabrication, testing, and evaluation work from a much smaller team of highly-skilled shop employees. I identified its shortcomings and set about designing a fantastic new methodology.
Several weeks later, it was ready. I loved it. My boss loved it.
With great enthusiasm, I began to introduce the new system to the engineers and shop employees who would be using it. To put it mildly, they did not see the value in the change nor love the ingenious system as much as I did.
I worked diligently to implement the new work order system in the face of active and sometimes angry resistance and, along the way, I learned the basics of what had gone wrong. I had not involved the people whose work I was disrupting in the development of the new system. I thought I had been efficient by doing it on my own. I thought I had been helpful by doing it for them. They didn’t see it that way and made sure I understood that in short order.
It took a few years for me to understand that my missteps were rooted in more than poor change management skills or the eagerness of my youth. My coworkers had been right; my true motivation had not been to be efficient or helpful. Upon uncomfortable reflection, I realized that my deepest desire had been to bolster my own ego. I single-handedly developed a vastly improved work order system to impress my boss and prove my worth.
My ego was in the way. In fact, looking back, I realize that I was in the Fear stage of character development at that point in my career. (There are seven natural stages of character development that span one’s entire career: Beginning, Yuckiness, Fear, Authenticity, Boundaries, Love, and, finally, the Exit stage as we leave the world of work.) From the Fear stage, I was looking at my work experience through the lens of protecting and promoting myself/my ego.
For several years after the work order system fiasco, I would go on to experience additional tough situations before I learned the lessons that the Fear stage had to offer. Eventually, I recognized how my ego needs contributed to some of the difficult situations I experienced at work. I learned to be intentional and thoughtful about how I interacted with others and grew to appreciate the impact of my words, behaviors, and actions on others. I began to understand that my behaviors were rooted in some sort of fear, and that I could identify and address the fear in order to bring my ego in check.
The name of the Fear stage sounds terrible, but it is an incredibly valuable stage within our natural developmental progression. The years we spend in this stage provide us with meaningful opportunities to identify the fears that block us from sharing our authentic gifts and talents. Thus, it should be appreciated as a season for thoughtfully harvesting lessons about self-awareness and self-management. Among other things, it teaches us to:
- Take inventory of our ego-driven or fear-based reactions to certain people, situations, or responsibilities, so we can determine the fears behind those reactions.
- Identify our fears, so we can address and, hopefully, heal them.
- Assess whether we are projecting our own fear-based behaviors onto others as an unconscious means to protect ourselves from having to face our own issues.
- Make friends with coworkers who model authenticity instead of those who nurture, enable, or otherwise feed upon our ego-driven or fear-based behaviors.
While the Fear stage may be difficult sometimes because of the myriad of humbling lessons it teaches us, it serves to prepare us for greater fulfillment and success from our careers. So, embrace the lessons of the Fear stage. Catalogue what you have learned or are learning about the role of your ego and your fears in the workplace. Let the gifts of those lessons shape your character as you continue your career journey.
Terri Jacke is the author of “Is This A Lousy Job Or Is It Just Me?: A Real-Life Guide For Achieving Success At Work” and serves as the president of Inspired Training Institute, an executive consulting firm she founded nearly 20 years ago. Her organization grosses over one million dollars annually, serving dozens of client organizations each year.