Leaving Your Ego at the Door

By Kim B. Stoneking, CAE, CBC, Senior Associate, Springboard International, LLC

New York Times bestselling author Cy Wakeman’s book, “No Ego,” has grabbed the attention of the corporate world since its release. The book makes a compelling case for the epidemic of workplace drama and its costly impact on an organization, and serves as a tutorial for how leaders can cut the cost of these ego-driven events. I believe all of us would agree that the association world is by no means exempt from workplace drama. If you have living, breathing people working with you in the association and serving on the board of directors… drama can exist. (No joke, right?)

Wakeman’s research discovered that the average person spends nearly 2.5 hours per day in drama and emotional waste. I’ll save you all the formulas, but based on the research an organization with 20 staff members experiences an annual waste of nearly $200,000. CEOs and COOs average about 5 hours per week dealing with drama. When you add this to the equation, the waste of resources due to workplace drama comes with quite a price tag—even for associations.

Ponder the following statements. What is your initial reaction?  Do you agree or disagree with the author?

  • An open-door policy creates a portal for drama
  • Neither my job description nor our financial statement mentions “ego management”
  • Traditional tools for dealing with workplace drama actually generate, rather than eliminate, the problem
  • Ego and reality cannot coexist
  • Drama exists when we argue with reality
  • Low accountability creates a culture ripe for workplace drama and emotional waste

I’ll have more opportunity to develop this and look at some case studies during the breakout session at the ISAE convention in July, but here are some tools to get you started.

Reality-Based Leadership (RBL) is the “sandbox” in which every leader should play to reduce the waste. Wakeman spends much of the book sharing ways to develop this skill. At the core of this philosophy is the concept “Stop Judging, Start Helping.” Bottom line, you were hired for the value you bring to the important work of the association, not as a depository for the ego-based, drama-filled stories we are all good at concocting. Strong statement, but it’s true.

The conventional method teaches leaders to listen, diffuse, reduce conflict, improve morale, and motivate the team. Wakeman says that RBL comes from the premise that your time is better spent by “refusing to foster daily theatrics at work and by coaching employees in ways that are grounded in reality.” Ego and reality are enemies. The key to RBL is to quickly gain control of the conversation, get ego out of the way, and interrupt nonproductive thinking.

Let’s look at an example. A staff person comes into your office and tells you, “Joe Smith in marketing has never liked me. In fact, he hates me and is purposely delaying getting me the information I need to properly promote our convention just to make me look bad. I’ve asked at least 20 times for this stuff and he refuses. It’s deliberate and he just makes stupid excuses.” What do you do? As stated earlier, you need to interrupt the nonproductive thinking. Instead of passively listening or directing, ask questions:

  • “What do you know for sure?”
  • “What is your part in this?”
  • “What are your ideas for resolving the issue?”
  • “What are you doing to help?”

Another key component of RBL is accountability. It is the ultimate ego bypass. Low accountability encourages staff to blame circumstances for their lack of results, low resilience among staff, and lack of ownership. Effective accountability should include:

  • Commitment
  • Resilience
  • Ownership
  • Continuous learning[EP1] 

By incorporating these and other tools proposed by Wakeman, reality can indeed prevail over ego.

Kim B. Stoneking, CAE, CBC is a Senior Associate with Springboard International, LLC. Following a long career as an association executive, he now partners with associations in strategic planning, executive coaching and leadership development, and is a frequent speaker.

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