Selfless Leadership: 3 Ways to Let Go of Ego

How’s Your Humility?

This month I had the pleasure of facilitating “The Language of Leadership” for 30 talented leaders in Perham, Minnesota, nestled in the heart of lake country. These talented, hard-working community leaders, all CEOs, CFOs, and business leaders in every industry from manufacturing to healthcare, all had one thing in common: humility.

If you are looking to succeed as a leader, one of the biggest obstacles you may have to manage is letting go of ego; and, helping others do the same. As you climb the corporate ladder, you’ll be expected to succeed less as an individual and more as a team, or maybe even as an entire community. And while you continue to hire, engage and lead successful people, they will expect to be treated accordingly. As a leader, how can you break free from ego?

1) Beware The “I” Factor.

In a leadership position, your role is to applaud the successes of those around you. A study from the University of Texas found that there is a direct correlation between senior leadership positions and the use of personal pronouns. Successful leaders tend to use first-person plural pro-nouns such as “we” and “us” much more often than those in lower leadership positions who tended to use “I” significantly more. In what ways can you let go of “I” and lean into “we”, “us”, or “you”?

2) Look For Learning.

Because our ego craves constant positive attention, it can get in the way of seeing bigger possibilities. As leaders continue growing their successes, they can sometimes be lured into thinking they are great, stunting individual and team growth. As a result, they repeat the same old behaviors, creating the illusion that there’s only one right way to succeed. Marshall Goldsmith’s best-selling book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There is a great example of how leaders can avoid falling victim to the limitations of their own successes.

3) Give Gratitude.

If you find yourself thinking your company is successful mainly because of your specific efforts, pause and think of all the people who contribute to your organization. Who has trained or men-tored you? Who manages the finances? And oversees meeting spaces and the calendar? How many people built the vision and structure before your time? By reflecting on others’ contributions and taking the time to regularly voice that gratitude you will be able to build humility and boost team engagement. Other tips for busting through ego:

  • Be more of a listener, and less of a manager. Be willing to explore new possibilities even for old ways of doing things.

  • Utilize self-confident selflessness, standing up for your ideas but not becoming bogged down by ego-attachment and pride.

  • Give yourself permission to practice. Many humble leaders have admitted to working hard on this skill and realizing it can be a difficult, life-long journey.

  • Consider where your ego tends to get in the way of your leadership. What’s one thing you’d like to immediately start, stop or continue doing to further cultivate humility in yourself and your team?