When your Ego gets in your Way of Collaboration

What is Ego?

After years and years of success in a corporate role my ego had been quite inflated until I

  1. a) moved to another country and
  2. b) started my own company several years later.

I notice an overinflated ego when I believe the world should be centered around me. Don’t get me wrong. It is ok to be self-confident, assertive and to believe in your own abilities but once in a while we need to accept that the world does not revolve around our needs alone. I think it is also healthy to learn that we are not perfect robots and that we embrace our fears and weaknesses.

Sometimes I feel offended if anyone acts as if I did not matter or if I did not have a say in a decision. Same is true if someone doubts my competence on a matter in which I feel highly competent. I hate when someone points out a mistake I made, even if it is a small one because in my self-image I don’t make “mistakes”. My self-image is that of a competent professional. However, competent and perfectionist is different. A competent person can do the job in a reasonable time. A perfectionist wastes time on detail that does not add value to the process or should be automated. Think of additional flowers you paint into a landscape.

As opposed to the image others have of you, you might feel that you do not always meet your own standards. When I am in a good mood, I tend to blame my lazy inner PA Amber Valentine, who sucks at her job.

When I am in a weak mood though (angry, hungry, lonely or tired), it could happen that a small error triggers an emotional landslide with elephant raindrops coming out of my eyes. Most of the time I later admit to myself, that most of these incidents are not about me and if I assume positive intentions, than I often see the other person’s perspective. We all just try to find solutions with the means and ideas we have at hand.

I also noticed that often we all misunderstand each other more than we actually understand each other. We easily feel criticized, when the other person tried to support or help us.

How does Ego get in the Way of Collaboration?

Once your ego has been hurt you will probably look for ways to “repair” the damage. This could happen by getting into fights with colleagues about nitty-gritty details or by showing constantly to others how superior you are too them. It’s a habit of highly intelligent colleagues, that they like to point out the flaws of an idea or that they push away an argument with a derogatory comment. (Isn’t it obvious that my argument makes sense?)

As a leader, you need to simplify and find explanations that are easy to grasp.

When you apply mathematics for example, I always liked, how one of my best math teachers in high school would teach us the way to derive the formula instead of just learning the formula (which unfortunately was often asked in business classes at university). Why would you waste brain space to learn something by heart that you can now easily recreate with a macro. If you don’t understand the macro, then you have an issue.

When you struggle with simple calculations

A few weeks ago it took me at least 15 minutes to figure out why I did not get a simple balance sheet calculation. I would say, I am good with numbers, but I need to have a bit of clarity in presentation too. This takes a bit of practice though and most of us think, that our presentation and writing is clear to others, while most of the time it is only clear to those who come from a similar background and have gone through a similar kind of education, training and practice. Someone with 20 years of work experience might judge cases more based on gut feeling than fact data. I remember hearing the same from Risk Managers, Doctors and Lawyers. I sometimes don’t know how to explain my judgement other than gut feeling so I need to rationalize it for others to understand where I am coming from.

It’s the same with delegating tasks. If you are not explicit what you need, by when and from whom you might not get anything or you only get half of what you expected. Most of the time you will therefore be disappointed by your collaborators or team members.

However, if you ego is in your way you might feel that you should be irreplaceable and you will create barriers to the flow of knowledge and barriers to collaboration. These barriers could even be sub-conscious. When we work with global, virtual teams to improve collaboration and performance, we teach you basic rules for true collaboration and we also practice ways to build trust and reduce ego-driven moves.

As a manager of such a global, virtual team, you will face challenges of compensating your team members in a fair manner and one or the other might have a better way of showing their contribution to a project and getting the credit.

Four Tips for Reducing your Ego-driven Actions

Nurture yourself: Your inner child most probably has not fully grown up yet. Nurture it and feed it. Look at your needs.

Develop collaboration principles: If you want to collaborate with others develop a common set of principles that you can fall back on in case of doubt.

Accept new tasks and projects with humbleness: Accept that you will have to learn when you move into a new role, a new project or a new task. Learning takes energy and effort. Stay humble.

Show true compassion: You could start with balancing your ego with moments of true compassion and support. Then you have a chance to become a leader, instead of a manager.

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