Do you understand your ego? Do you realise when it hinders you and when it helps you?
Psychological theory defines the ego as that part of our personalities that we experience as “myself” or “me”. Our egos make contact with the world around us through our percentions. The ego remembers, evaluates, plans, and otherwise responds to the world. Sigmund Freud proposed that the ego coexists with the id (primitive drivers of personality) and the superego (the ethical component of personality). So the ego reflects both our conscious and unconscious “self”.

The role of the ego in management theory and practice loomed ever larger as I researched and wrote two recent publications on the theme of self-organisation. (Doe-het-zelf leiders, Lannoo 2018; Cocreation. 13 Myths Debunked, Lannoo 2016). My conclusion is that the main challenge faced by teams transitioning to self-management is for team members to learn to let go of their need to control and that is ego-driven! Weisbord and Janoff have published an interesting book on this topic: Lead more, control less (Berrett-Koehler 2015). They propose changes to organizational structure as a means to overcome people’s need to control therefore also easing the implementation of self-organising teams. I fully agree with their approach, but their work leaves a fundamental question unanswered: what makes people able or unable to relinquish control? Here ego comes around the corner. I am attempting to answer this question through my current project, a book on ego management and self-managing teams.

An individual’s potential for success is strongly tied to one’s ego. An interesting book that explores the role of the ego in our lives is: The EGO unmasked – meeting the great challenge in our life, Nickolas Martin, Dorrance 2010. Martin believes that the key to developing a deeper understanding of one’s own ego is to simply become more aware of it. Martin writes that ego consciousness helps us to manage our egos and to develop them in the direction that is best for our needs.

So let’s look at bit more closely at the above definition of the ego. The ego influences one’s:

Psychological state, happiness, mental and emotional well-being,
Perception of our environment. For example, do we feel imprisoned by our environment,
Biological state. For example our emotional state, our anxiety and our frustrations can disrupt the normal function of our involuntary nervous system leading to stress-related diseases for example,
Social life and our interactions with family, friends, colleagues, etc.
Martin describes three characteristics of one’s ego:

Size – from big to small. That is how we often speak about ego: ‘he has a big ego’
Permeability – very much to not at all. How open to influences is your ego? Both from inside and outside.
Fragility – from high to low. How sensitive is it?
He also defines 10 aspects of the human experience which are influenced by one’s ego and which in turn can influence its development:

1. How much control we assume when executing tasks

2. How we deal with close relationships

3. Our level of self-esteem

4. Our expectations and need for achievement

5. Our ability to change our perceptions or “your ability to make changes in your mind”

6. Our capability to deal with the inevitable big changes in our lives

7. Our competence for coping with important adversities

8. Our typical emotional state

9. How stressed and how sensitive we are

10. Our ability to deal with (serious) conflicts

All of this results in 125 ego types, which Martin uses as a way to self-diagnose and self-develop people’s egos.

In don’t want to run into stereotypes of people’s egos, but it certainly helped me to consider the richness of the concept of ego. This is how I use it in my work. Help people take a better look in the (ego) mirror and from there develop ego consciousness and stimulate ego-management and development.

Are you interested in the concept of ego and how it helps or blocks ourselves, how it prevents us from healthy self-management and working together?

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