Your Leadership Operating System: Ego Or Eco?

“The Ego is an exquisite instrument. Enjoy it, use it – just don’t get lost in it.” - Ram Dass

We’ve worked with them and for them – individuals in leadership positions who prioritize profits over people, place a greater value on transactions than interactions and view themselves on a higher level than those around them. While their ego-driven ambition may be effective in generating short-term gains, attaining goals is different from achieving growth.

In his best-selling classic business book, “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins explains that it’s natural for ambitious leaders to have a healthy ego. The best leaders can effectively use this ambition to achieve what’s best for the organization, not for their own individual gain. Collins advises leaders to “channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.”

When we are led by our ego, we see ourselves at the top of a pyramid, supported by people, policies, processes, and profits. In this top-down approach, as business grows and successes are earned, we face a greater risk of allowing excessive pride to get in the way. Seduced by our inflated ego, a “more” mindset kicks in – we want more wins, more opportunities, and more recognition. This misdirected ambition widens the divide between the leader at the top of the pyramid driving the outcomes, and the many in the middle making them happen.

Contrast this approach with “ecosystem leadership,” a term coined by Otto Scharmer in his book, “Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies.” Ecocentric leaders consider themselves part of an interdependent circle filled with individual and collective contributors. As business grows, the circle expands to include more partners and collaborators. Successes are celebrated at an organizational rather than personal level, with a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” Leading laterally, we work beyond boundaries, seeking ways to connect networks and collaborators to build high-performing teams.

In today’s world of ever-expanding networks, leading within an ecosystem allows us to rely on the process of collaboration to leverage collective intelligence. We become smarter, more creative, and more broadminded when we operate from a leadership ecosystem, intentionally harnessing the strengths and skills to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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