Is Your Ego Tied to Your Role?

Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, and it will, that your ego goes with it.

blue-ribbon2Good for us – we got that promotion we’ve been hoping for! Congratulations have poured in from our colleagues, our mother, and our Facebook friends. We see our name a bit higher on the org chart and with it, the pressure to perform just got a bit higher too. Still, today is an ego day regardless of how humble and gracious we may appear.

Officially we have more authority, responsibility, and influence than we did before, and maybe even a nice wage increase. Unofficially however, on the inside, we are still the same imperfect person. The promotion didn’t magically transform us… and the sooner we accept this the better.

Like it or not, business and society equate progress “up the ladder” with value – or more to the point: worth. Without waxing too philosophical here, my own experience reveals the opposite; the higher we go on the organization chart, the more our flaws tend to annoy others, blind us to learning opportunities, and add risk to our companies. I share this as a friendly warning, not an indictment. The moment we believe that our worth to the company stems from our position, we start our slide into an impact-limiting trap.

Us vs. Our Role

gladiator-movie-picture-24 The role we play in our organization is just that: a role. In any drama, each player must know and execute their “lines.” When the performance is over, off comes the costume. Nobody confused Russell Crowe with an actual Roman gladiator, least of all Mr. Crowe himself.

But in our workplaces, we wear our job titles all week/month/year long; we can indeed forget that we are just people playing a part. We see ourselves as the pastor, supervisor, senior technician, or station chief, instead of Todd, Micki, Terri, or Dennis. We let these lines blur and our egos get subtly if unconsciously stroked. Over time we become so attached to the role we play that we actually think it’s who we are. Threats to our role become threats to ourselves. New, unhelpful behaviors appear –caricatures of what those in our role “should” be like, instead of what comes natural.

I’m Not the President

A healthier mind set is to remain grounded in the reality that each of us is a unique combination of personality, talents, skills, and abilities who happens to be paid to do a specific job today. I’m not the head nurse; I’m Jane, whose job for the day is to lead nurses. I’m not the president; I’m Bruce, whose job for the day is to preside. This thought pattern helps us bring all of our individuality to every workday.

Take fatherhood, for instance. Ask any kid – the best dads are the ones who are themselves first. And last. Yes, they fill the role of parent but it is secondary to the personal, intimate, open and natural relationship with the man himself. Which is why some step-dads, granddads, and coaches can and do fill the “role” of father just fine, thank you.

Organic Organizations

To survive, institutions must regularly adjust to today’s hyper-competitive landscape. That usually means frequent re-shuffling of duties. Some companies make it easier on themselves by assigning the same “Associate” job title to everyone, although I’m not a fan of the approach.

I think the better answer is what we did as kids for a pick-up baseball game – we grabbed our mitts and headed out to the open positions, and each day it might be different. We could do this because we saw ourselves as talented ball players first, not as the pitcher or shortstop. Some Saturdays I got to pitch, some I stood around in right field. But that was fine by me. My ego had nothing to do with it.

So it bears repeating: Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, and it will, that your ego goes with it. Think of yourself as the unique and talented player that you are, grab your mitt, and get back in the game.

Bruce loves to help people overcome challenges, particularly in leadership, interpersonal relationships and trust. He’s a noted speaker, author, active church member and community volunteer. Bruce’s day job has been to lead RBB since 2001, becoming Owner in 2007.

Bruce is blessed to share his life with his wife Donna and their three wonderful children: daughters Kelly and Kara, and son Kirk. As time permits he enjoys golf, writing and learning how to live in the country.

Looking for skills you can use right now to improve relationships, both business and personal? Or how to use powerful and practical tools to improve trust with others? If so, sign up for the next Building Trust workshop on August 6th and 7th.

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