This post is part of our 10 Leadership Principles series. You can find more information on the series and catch up on previous posts here.
There is no real easy way to say this, but if we were sitting in a room together and I could look you in the eye, I might say something like this…
“Hey friend, so I know you’re really great at that thing you love doing more than anyone else. You’re knocking it out of the park every single day. The problem is that I need you to do more than that one thing you really love doing. In fact, I need you to do this other thing over here, and I know you’re not going to like it, but I’m going to partner you with someone who can help you because they are better at it than anyone else. I know that might feel crapy at first, and you might even feel like you don’t need the help, but no one knows how to do everything, and right now, I need you to trust that we are all in this together.”
The reality is other people are smarter than you, there is no easy way to say it, but it’s 100% a true statement. By smarter, I don’t necessarily mean intelligence or higher grades. I mean that other people will know how to do aspects of your job/role better and more efficiently than you. However, in turn, you will learn how to do parts of someone else’s job better and more efficiently than them. In an ideal world, this should be a cyclical process in which you recognize and invite others to help you, and in turn, you actively look to help others. All because other people are smarter than you.
The problem in leadership is often this cycle gets broken, and it’s almost always broken for a particular reason… ego.
Ego can be defined as where a person finds their self-esteem or self-worth. However, in leadership, what we do, how we act and who we are can become a negative definer of our egos. Let’s take a moment to unpack these three things.
First, let’s talk about how what we do can have a negative impact on our ego. If you’re in leadership, you are probably a “get stuff done” kind of person; most leaders are. However, what happens if we “don’t get stuff done”? The why it wasn’t completed is irrelevant to the process because all we will see is a failure. When our identity or ego is linked to our actions, and when we fail, we start to believe that we are failures. That we have nothing to offer, so when people who are smarter than us come along, instead of asking for help, we tend to dive harder into our failures. Because to ask for help is in itself being a failure because now “someone else is getting our stuff done.”
Second, let’s look at how we act and how it can have a negative impact on our ego. When I think of actions, I think of the task and responsibilities you were hired/asked to accomplish. Typically these can be found in our job descriptions, and they guide how we function within the system or organization. The cycle breaks when you start to believe you are the “expert” and only “you” can complete the assigned task. The problem is an “expert” is not all-knowing. The definition of an expert is someone who is “very knowledgable” in a particular field. The negative impact is when we start to think that we are all-knowing, and a sign of this is when you hear words like “only I can fix ___,” “I’m the only one who knows how to ___.” Statements like this imply that no one else is smarter than you. So no one can help you, and everyone needs your help because “only you” can help them.
Finally, the last negative impact on our ego that I want to talk about comes from who we are, and that title is “boss.” Anyone in primary leadership positions could also probably be called a “boss,” and as a “boss,” the implication is that you are the top of the chain of command. No one is higher than you, and no one else can question you because you are at the top; you are the boss. The negative impact comes when the title becomes a command. Something like, “Do the following because I’m the boss” or “I’m the boss, so I want things done my way.” The truth is that as someone in a primary leadership position, you are in charge; you are, in fact, the boss. But when we start to use our title as a command, we create an environment where most people are too afraid to come near you. They shy away from you out of self-preservation, and as a result, you become isolated. That isolation can lead you to believe you are the only person who can solve all the problems, eventually leading to failure. But because the “boss” can’t fail, it must be someone else’s fault, which leads to people avoiding you, and long-term damage can and probably will be created.
The natural question is, how do I keep my ego in check to find the right balance in; what we do, how we act and who we are. The answer is found in recognizing that we were made for community and relationships. We were not created to run a solo game. The Bible is super clear that relationships are fundamental to God. Not only did God create the relationships between man and woman in the opening chapters of the Bible, but humanity was also in a relationship with Him. Humanity through Adam and Eve also chose to break that cycle by chasing after their desires, or in our conversation, chasing their ego. The result was a broken relationship between God and humanity.
But God, out of infinite love for us, didn’t leave the relationship broken, He instead sought to fix it, and it was ultimately fixed in a relationship with Jesus. In Jesus, we are brought back to the family of God, back into the community and back into a place where Jesus is central in our lives. See, Jesus is the answer to keeping our ego in check; what we do is guided by Jesus, how we act is empowered by Jesus, and who we are is defined by Jesus. When Jesus is the centre of our lives, it doesn’t matter if someone else is smarter than you because we are all in this together.
Instead of fighting against it, we chose to embrace it. We accept that we cannot do everything, and in the community, someone else can do what I cannot, but in turn, I can do what they cannot. It’s incredibly freeing, and as a leader, it takes the weight of the world off your shoulders. You don’t have to do everything because you are not alone, but that also comes with a responsibility to help those who are leading know that they are also not alone.
I want you to reflect and think about where your ego is at right now in your current leadership role. It may be challenging, so take as much time as you need to work through the following questions.
- Does what you do define who you are? Why or why not?
- Do you feel like you need to be the expert in your role? Why or why not?
- Does your team feel they can give you feedback? Why or why not?
Over the next few days, I want you to ask someone “smarter than you” to help you out with a project or activity that you need to complete. Then I want you to make yourself available to help someone else complete a project or activity. The goal is to recognize that God has placed people in your life that can help you and, in turn, has placed people in your life that you can help.