The Quiet Ego@Work

My latest book, Ego@Work, co-authored with colleague Roel Reitzema will be published October this year. We review our experiences helping to develop management and leadership capabilities by focusing on Ego styles and their impact on harmony in the workplace and achieving targets, from I to we.

Background reading for my book has included The Ego Unmasked (Martin, 2011) which presents ways to enhance personal growth by becoming more conscious of our egos and by learning how to develop our egos in the direction we wish. All of us, and certainly managers, could benefit from developing these skills (see more in my last blog). I have been inspired too by a book entitled Transcending Self-Interest: Psychological Exploration of the Quiet Ego (Bauer and Wayment, 2008).

Bauer and Wayment evaluate the impact of burn-out, bore-out and stress on psychological wellbeing and health. They describe the “Quiet Ego” and the “Noisy Ego” as two ends of a continuum. The position of our egos along this continuum can magnify or reduce our stress-levels. The authors suggest that we can achieve a sense of wellbeing and better health by striking a balance between focusing our attention on others versus on ourselves. They explain that a weighting in favour of the Quiet Ego results in self-identity, characterized by:

  • An objective consciousness (mindfulness)
  • An inclusive identity (feeling of being part of the world)
  • A broad perspective (empathic)
  • An orientation towards growth and development (less defensive, more emotionally involved)

They compare the “Quiet Ego” to the “Noisy Ego” as follows:

The Quiet Ego The Noisy Ego
Listens to others Neutralises the voices of others
Is in a state of psychosocial harmony Is in a state of psychosocial disharmony
Is fine-tuned with its own internal rhythm Is fine-tuned with the outside world
Has a balanced evaluation of self and others Has an unbalanced evaluation of self and others
Good knowledge of its positive and negative qualities Limited knowledge of its positive and negative qualities, exaggerates the positive
Compassionate towards others Strives to serve its own interests
Self is a story – an illusion Self and social images are real
Non-defensive consciousness Defensive consciousness
Develops towards quieter ego Develops towards a self-obsessed worrier
Develops a broader self-perspective Ignores or excludes others, narcissistic

Is your Ego Quiet or Noisy?

Most people don’t think too much before they act.  Actions are commonly a response based on internal references we have acquired over a life-time. Managers and leaders are most effective when they inspire others. But if our egos lie in the Noisy end of the ego continuum, we will pay insufficient attention to others. Noisy Ego managers are typically eager to perform and they like the feeling of success. They strive for success for their own gratification and not for the benefit of their group or team. Noisy Ego managers attribute successes to their leadership and failures to the shortcomings of their team members or to unfavourable market conditions or poor-quality products and the like. Such managers can, on the other hand, remain focused even in difficult times because they are highly motivated to achieve their targets as a means to feed their self-confidence.

Managers whose egos lie in the Quiet end of the ego continuum try to understand their people, to read their minds, to appreciate their feelings and their fears. Quiet Ego managers want to help their people reach targets collaboratively. They have a fundamental trust in their people and are able to cede control and step out of the way when their teams want to try new things. They are mindful and empathetic. Quiet Ego managers admit it when there is something that they don’t know.

The questions then are:

Do managers and leaders need to have characteristics of the Quiet Ego or are there some attributes of the Noisy Ego that are important for success? How can you strike the best ego balance as a manager?

I think managers need to incorporate both types of ego: being focused and result-oriented are critical competencies, but only if they are put in balance by developing and applying Quiet Ego characteristics of mindfulness, a wholeness orientation and empathy.

Look for my upcoming book Ego@Work written in collaboration with Roel Reitzema and available from September 15 2019. Or call me for an informal discussion about your experiences with Ego management or your business needs . Looking forward to hearing from you. Hans Begeer +32 475720450

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