As I have written many times over the years, you cannot enter a dialogue about human consciousness without including the ego. Well, you could, but you’d be avoiding a primary actor in the process. For all its darkness and lightness, the ego exists in us all – not as a thing to be exorcised, or be rid of, but to master, transcending the negative and utilizing the positive.
In my writings over the past 25 to 30 years on Conscious Leadership and The Conscious Organization, I have covered various facets of consciousness whereby the negative aspects of ego, or shadow, are minimalized, allowing the positive traits of the ego to better contribute.
I just finished reading the book Egonomics where the authors make an elegant case for three principles that not only require us to do things differently but they require us to be different. These three principles are humility, curiosity and veracity.
It occurred to me that while the authors of the book are largely discussing ego in the individual context, as in a leader, I started thinking of it in the organizational context as in the corporate culture. Here’s how they describe the first of these principles:
"…humility is intelligent self-respect that keeps us from thinking too much or too little of ourselves. It reminds us how far we have come while at the same time helping us see how far short we are of what we can be."
Imagine an organization having this as a cornerstone to their culture. In his book Beyond Ego: Influential Leadership Starts Within, Canadian consultant Art Horn defines what I would call “negative ego” as “the part of you that sees yourself as above, below or against other people or circumstances.” This might be the most succinct definition I have come across for the dark side of human ego.
The second Egonomics principle is curiosity:
"The highest concentration of curiosity isn’t created by adding an ounce of order to a pound of openness, or vice versa. Trait curiosity requires equal parts of both."
What the authors call “trait curiosity” is built-in, intrinsic, always there - as opposed to episodic curiosity.
Imagine an organizational culture possessing trait curiosity, always curious, always exploring, asking questions. This reminds me of the “learning organization” that became so popular in the early 1990s after the publication of Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. At the time, it was a departure from the “know it all” cultures that were so dominant, like the U.S. auto makers’ cultures until the 1980s when Japanese manufacturers started kicking Detroit’s butt. This arrogant Detroit culture could be seen as “organizational ego” run rampant.
The third principle for this conscious dominion over ego is veracity, a word we don’t hear much about these days. Here’s part of what the Egonomics authors have to say about it:
"Fused with humility and curiosity, veracity…. keeps the capital of the ego working for us rather than against us. Veracity means truth. Truth refers to facts or reality; it implies accuracy and honesty. Truth is a destination. Veracity doesn’t differ from truth in its destination, but it differs in action. Veracity implies the habitual pursuit of and adherence to truth. Both pursuit and adherence matter immensely; pursuit in arriving at truth, and adherence in making a change once truth is discovered."
Now imagine all three of these principles embedded in an organizational culture where individuals expressing these characteristics are rewarded, respected and admired for their dominion over ego allowing the organization as a whole to exude that same dominion. After all, if one is alive one has an ego. But a healthy functioning ego takes dominion and mastery so it stays clear of those darker sides – like arrogance, defensiveness and bravado to name a few - that do so much damage.
I find these principles to be a great fit for my model of a conscious organization, where people are encouraged to seek out any darkness and shine light on any dysfunction. Thanks to Egonomics, we have more content on which to build.
Conscious leaders who adopt these principles are leaders who have dominion over their egos and offer hope to all who work in the public or private sectors.
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Egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Our Most Expensive Liability), by David Marcum and Steven Smith, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, New York, 2007
Beyond Ego: Influential Leadership Starts Within, by Art Horn, ECW Press, Toronto, 2008
The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, Doubleday Currency, New York, 1990