Overcoming Ego to Unleash Innovation
This article was originally published on the ATD Blog.
When the full impact of the global pandemic hit, the business world was upended. Leaders had to learn how to pivot business and personnel to virtual ways of working. While the crisis demanded a tremendous effort from leaders and their teams, it was a focused effort.
As the world starts to re-emerge from the constraints of the pandemic, leaders are facing another massive transition. But this one is much more difficult to navigate because the solutions are unclear. What does the ideal world of work look like now that our traditional ways of working have changed? How do we continue to grow thriving businesses while supporting and cultivating an engaged and healthy workforce?
In these times of unprecedented change, we must let go of what was and open up to new possibilities. But this is no easy task. We all have egos, and egos are naturally inclined to want things to “go back to the way they were” and seek the familiar and comfortable versus the unknown and the undefined.
According to research, the higher leaders rise in the ranks, the greater their chance of developing an inflated ego. We get caught in an insular bubble of our own self-importance or our own self-preservation. Either way, our minds become smaller, more biased, and more limited. An inflated ego can trap us in old patterns of thinking and fear-based decision making that limits our ability to innovate.
It takes considerable effort to confront our fears and overcome the limitations of ego to see new possibilities for ourselves, our people, and our organizations. Working with our ego is the foundation for our journey toward unleashing innovation and realizing more of our potential.
In our current business context, breaking free of an overly protective, inflated ego is critical to short- and long-term sustainability and success. Successfully emerging from the pandemic requires us to have a bigger mind that is more open to new ideas and new ways of working. In practical terms, this means we need to focus on asking questions rather than providing answers. We need to look to others for inspiration and help. We need to become comfortable being vulnerable and bring more humility to our daily work.
We can also benefit from training our minds to be more open to new possibilities as well as more focused on others and less focused on ourselves. Specific types of mindfulness practices can help us cultivate minds that are calmer and clearer. These practices help us rewire our brain so that we can be less focused on ourselves and more open to others and new possibilities. The right kinds of mindfulness practice help loosen the ego’s grip and have been scientifically shown to boost creativity and innovation.
While managing your ego is a life-long endeavor, a few simple steps can get you started:
- Develop a mindset of courage over comfort. We all are naturally oriented to seek comfort. When we are intentional about seeking courage over comfort, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and new ways of leading.
- Cultivate humility and gratitude. None of us can survive or thrive on our own. When we cultivate humility, we recognize that we are indebted to the many people who have supported and continue to support our success. With this recognition, a natural experience of gratitude arises, and we can be more patient, considerate, and open to others and their ideas.
- Incorporate mindfulness into your daily habit. Our brain is like any other muscle—it can be trained. If we want to overcome the limitations of ego, mindfulness training can help us become more calm, clear, and kind. In particular, training in mindfulness can help us recognize and overcome the limitations of our ego and enable us to see ourselves and our world with more potential.
- Name and challenge assumptions that no longer serve you. Work toward a mind that experiences enhanced creativity and innovation by being open to new ideas, perspectives, and approaches.