Ego makes its way into a workplace often through office politics, gossip, and people being easily offended by what other people say. Despite having its negative connotations, it’s a primal emotion and is rooted in our survival instincts. Ego can be a good thing and necessary for your basic self-esteem. But, when it’s taken to the extreme, it becomes a weakness. Nicole Jansen, founder and CEO of Discover the Edge explores this idea, showing us how to free yourself from your ego at the office.What we learned from this episode
-The connection between survival and office politics.
-Most people are both aware and completely unaware of the role of ego in their work.
-Ego manifests itself most clearly when you are frustrated or critical of others because of what they should or shouldn't be doing.
-Every strength taken to an extreme can become a weakness. For example, take someone who likes to talk and is outgoing, and personable. If you take that to the extreme, that person is talking over others, doesn't shut up, doesn't give anybody else a chance to share.What you can do right now
-Start with the question, "Why are you in business in the first place?"
-Admit how little you know when you are in a management position.
-Check on your team and make them feel safe and protected.
-Make communication two-way. Ask questions like "How am I doing as a leader? How am I supporting you? What can I do to help you do your job better?Key Quotes
"If you don't know why you're here, then it's a pretty good chance that your team doesn't know why they are there beyond a paycheck."
"The only reason why we're frustrated with other people is that they're not doing what we think they should be doing."
"People need to be acknowledged more often, not just for the things they do wrong, because I know that's usually what happens. It's for the things they do well."
"People need to be seen, and they need to be heard, and feel that validation of I am important, I am valued here, not just as a number, then that will go a long way for them to feel safe and protected.”
Today, our guest is Nicole Jansen. She’s the founder and CEO of Discover the Edge and Leaders of Transformation. And this is Work Minus Ego. Hi, Nicole. How are you?
Hi, Neil. It’s great to be here.
We’re very excited to have you on. Obviously, a huge topic. But first, why don’t you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Sure. So, as you mentioned, I am the founder of Discover the Edge. Discover the Edge is a coaching and training company. And so, I help entrepreneurs and business owners to be able to grow their business, increase their sales, team performance, profitability, and actually really deal with the underlying issues that lead to the results, either occurring or not occurring. So, the mindset, the belief systems underneath the surface of that.
That’s great. So, when you get into an organization, what are some of the first questions you ask to peel back the layers of what’s going on?
Great question. So, when they come to me, usually, it’s because their complaint is that they don’t have enough sales, or they need to increase their profitability, or their team is just not doing what they’re supposed to be doing and they’ve got poor engagement, poor productivity, whatever. And so, the first question I always ask is, why are you in business in the first place?
And get a long pause, too, right?
Right. It’s like, what does that have to do with anything? It has a lot to do with it because do you know why you’re here, and if you don’t know why you’re here, then it’s a pretty good chance that your team doesn’t know why they’re there beyond a paycheck. So, it really does start off with mission and purpose and vision, understanding those, and then understanding what the core values are, and then we build from there. So, based on their answers, I can quickly get a sense of how clear they are. And clarity leads to power. So, when the leader is clear and they are talking about it with passion and enthusiasm, then the next question is, how well does your team understand the vision and the mission of the business? How is it showing up in their day to day activities? Because there’s a lot of companies who have core values on a wall or a mission statement on a wall and that’s about as far as it goes. It doesn’t really play out in the day to day activity. People go, “Yeah, that’s what it is. Anyway, carry on.” And they just keep doing what they’re doing. So, there has to be alignment, and everything that they’re doing, every employee, somehow what they’re doing needs to lead to the end result of here’s where we’re going.
So, we’re talking about Work Minus Ego today, which obviously is a massive topic. How do we break that down? But let’s start with some of the obvious places where you see ego coming into the workplace.
Sure. Well, I think, first of all, let’s define what ego is. And if you go on Google, the first thing it’ll say is it’s a person’s sense of self esteem and self importance. It’s the I. And so, ego itself is like a need for survival. It’s our most core human need. Certainly, I believe that our human need to love and be loved is very important. But underneath, there’s this primal need for survival. And so, how this shows up, in obvious ways in the workplace, is ego shows up through office politics, and gossiping, and people being easily offended by what other people say, everybody knows the arrogant or bossy leader or manager. Now, those are some of the obvious ways that it shows up.
So, do you feel like most people are aware of those obvious things? Like if you say, “Does your office have a problem with this?” They could say, “Yeah, absolutely.” Or is there a lack of self awareness for most people?
Well, I think if you ask them, there’s a level of self acceptance, where people have actually accepted that that’s just the way it is and that every workplace is like that. There’s always going to be office politics, and there’s always going to be gossip, and so forth. But I don’t think people think about it as, hey, we have a problem with ego here. I think they just accepted that that’s the way it always is going to be. But if you ask them about it, they’ll tell you, oh, that person’s like this, or this is happening over there. If you actually bring awareness to it, yes, they’re oftentimes very aware of it.
So, then, as an expert, lead us into some of the more subtle ways that ego is present in the workplace.
Sure. So, it actually shows up in frustration, mostly just I’m so frustrated with this person. Well, why are you frustrated? I do personality workshops, and in teaching people how to understand themselves and others better so they can build better relationships and more effective teams, we teach the different personality types and how they work. And in this process, a lot of times people will talk about the frustration that they have with another person because that person is not doing what they think the way it should be done, or say it the way that they think is appropriate. And at one point, I was doing this workshop, and I said, and it just kind of it was this, like, a-ha, for me as well, is that you know what? The only reason why we’re frustrated with other people is that they’re not doing what we think they should be doing. And who are we to determine what they should or shouldn’t do as a human being? So, when you realize that where does frustration come from, criticism is another one. Criticism, it comes from this right, wrong. There’s a right way to do things. There’s a way that it should be done. And a lot of that is ego driven. It’s based on what I think. It’s like I’m the center of the universe in some way. It’s like what I think is the right way to do it is the right way. Why can’t you be normal like me?
Let’s go back and define that term ego a little bit more clearly because as we’re talking, your first definition sounded like a sense of self awareness, a sense of self esteem, which, for the most part, we’re taught is a good thing. You should have some kind of self esteem, you should be aware of yourself. So, what is it exactly, when we say Work Minus Ego, that we’re trying to get out? Is it the entire sense of self where you get subsumed into the larger organization? Or what are these negative qualities about ego that we’re trying to remove?
Great question. And absolutely not. I mean, ego is actually a good thing, that you have a sense of self esteem, that you have a good healthy self importance of self identity is really important, and in organizations, not for you to be completely consumed by what the company and just kind of be a number or anything like that. And that’s actually, part of what’s happening is people are feeling like they’re just a number, they’re just another body. And so, that becomes an issue. It’s where it’s taken to the extreme where, and this actually is interesting because personality types, I mean, every personality type has tremendous strengths, and also blind spots. But if you take any strength, let’s say, for example, someone that likes to talk and is outgoing, and personable. And if you take that to the extreme, that person is talking over others, doesn’t shut up, doesn’t give anybody else a chance to share. So, every strength taken to an extreme can become a weakness. That’s where ego gets in the way. And it’s like, as I said, it’s this need to survive, it’s this need to be seen, it’s this need to be heard. And it comes from, I think, there’s a lot of people that are hurting right now in the world, in many different ways. And when we’re hurting and/or struggling, we have this need to survive, like a primal need that all else fails, I have to protect myself, I have to survive the situation. And that’s where I think it becomes a challenge because I’m trying to survive, and if surviving, to me, means that I need to protect myself, I need to be right because actually it’s our meaning that we give it, then what does that mean for you? And what does that mean for us working together? Because if you’re thinking that, and I’m thinking that, it’s going to be really hard to work together and create great results together.
So, what’s the role of a manager or a team leader in this in terms of trying to address this need to survive? You want people to feel safe, you want them to feel secure in the teams that they’re in, but if they are coming with baggage of other employment that’s been bad, or things going on in their personal life that they’re feeling, what are some ways that managers, especially young ones, can figure out how to provide that stability while not going overboard?
Great question. So, I’m a big believer in protecting the person and addressing the behavior. And separating the two. A lot of times what we do is we, as leaders and managers, it’s like, hey, this person is not doing what they should be doing or what the role requires. And so, it could easily make them wrong. And then the person’s need for survival and protection and not feeling safe and accepted is going to kick in. And so, they’re going to resist, they’re going to be offended, they’re going to argue, they’re going to justify, which is another very subtle way that ego shows up is this justification. And so, I’m entitled to this. And so, what we can do, as leaders and managers, is, number one, acknowledge. People need to be acknowledged more often, not just for the things they do wrong, because I know that’s usually what happens. It’s for the things they do well. You’ve got to balance it out. It’s interesting because certain cultures, like Germany, they don’t like that sandwiching where you give them a negative, but then you sandwich it with positives because they know that’s just a cloak and dagger kind of thing.
So, I’m not talking about that. But what I’m saying is that if you invest in your people and acknowledge all the things that they do well, I had a client once who said to me, I don’t know why I need to acknowledge this person, they’re just doing their job and they’re doing what they get paid for. Well, you’re right. That’s true. You can buy their time with that attitude. But if you want to buy their heart, and their trust, and their commitment to you, it’s going to take a little more than that. And so, acknowledging, being present with people, like don’t just scan over, you’re multitasking, and you’re telling them, you’re giving them assignments, but you’re not actually looking at them, and you’re not focused on “how are you doing?” It’s so funny. We say, as we walk down the hallway in the workplace, it’s like, “Hey, how are you?” And most people don’t actually wait for an answer. And people, it’s kind of a flippant thing that you say, but when you stop and actually check in with somebody and saying, “how are you?” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, like they actually see me.” So, people need to be seen, and they need to be heard, and feel that validation of I am important, I am valued here, not just as a number, then that will go a long way for them to feel safe and protected. Also, feedback, it’s one thing to give feedback, but what if you were to also ask for feedback. Now you’re creating a safe place that it’s actually going both ways. “How am I doing as a leader? How am I supporting you? What can I do to help you do your job better?” So now I’m in it with you as opposed to trying to tell you and saying you need to do this, and you need to do that, and I’ve got it all figured out. But you need to do that. It’s subtle, and especially if somebody has been triggered, has been in an experience previously that has been with maybe an overbearing boss, or an egomaniac, or whatever, they’re going to be much more sensitive to that in the way that we, as leaders, deal with and work with them. And so, you can interrupt that pattern really well, by just stopping and checking in with them. “How are you doing? How am I doing as a leader? What can I do to support you more?” “Wow, nobody’s ever asked me that before.” And so now you start co-creating results together as opposed to trying to force results through the people that you have on your team.
I really liked the line where you say, as managers, sometimes people think you have it all figured out. They know you don’t, but they know that you’re supposed to assume like you do. So, just being honest about that and say, I know very little about this, and I need help. And approaching it from that angle is a very powerful thing. I want to switch the conversation a little bit to personality dynamics, because I know it’s another thing that you talk a lot about. So, how do personality dynamics play a role in identifying and removing the ego because everyone has a different personality, their ego is going to manifest in a different way?
Great question. So, I use the DISC personality model of human behavior. And so, just quickly as a run through of all four, the D is the dominant personality type. They’re the doer, the driver, the decisive personality type. They’re outgoing and they’re task oriented. The I personality is the inspiring type. They are outgoing, but they’re more people oriented. And they are interested in people, they’re interesting, they love to be the life of the party and have fun and they like to be liked and to be popular. The S personality type, they are the supportive type. They like the steady status quo. They like harmony, they like appreciation. They’re also people oriented, but they’re more reserved so they’re more inclined to connect with people on a one on one basis, where the I personality would be more inclined to want to connect with a whole group of people or be very comfortable in an environment where there’s a lot of strangers meeting new people. And then you have the C personality type, which is reserved and task oriented. And that personality type is very cautious. They’re contemplated, they’re some of the smartest people that you’ll ever meet, they’re very correct in the way they do things. So, when we talk about ego, understanding your strengths, it goes a long way for you to feel I have a healthy self esteem, I know who I am, I feel good about who I am and what I bring as value to the workplace is great.
Again, any strength taken to an extreme then becomes a weakness. And that’s where it can show up in unhealthy ways, the ego. So, the dominant type, the D, which is dominant, driving, doing, they like to lead and be in charge, that can show up to the extreme, that can show up as I must win, I have to be the first, the best. For the I personality type, the desire to be liked and to be popular now is I must be seen, I must be the one out front. And seeking that limelight at the cost of even other people. I had a lady that I did a training program with. And she loved to be in front of the audience, like she was an entertainer, and she was a tremendous trainer, and so forth. And right up front, I said to her, I said, we need to be clear on what type of presenters we’re going to be because there are two types, in my opinion. One type, when they finish getting off the stage, people say, “Wow, you’re so amazing. Oh, my goodness. You’re just fantastic.” The second type is when you get off the stage, the people in the audience feel, “Wow, I’m amazing. I feel good about myself having listened to you and you’ve helped me to feel better about myself.” I said, and in order for us to be successful in what we’re doing here, we need to be the second. So, it’s not about necessarily us, and how good we look on stage. It’s about the impact that we can make.
And so, the S personality type, which is the supportive type, taken into an extreme, they can be resistant, they like to be very supportive and be very helpful. But if they feel like they’re not appreciated, and it goes to the extreme, they might slow down, they might resist. And yeah, I’ll do it for you, on my own time. And you’ll have to wait for me to get it done on my own time. And they’ll start to resist. The C personality type can become critical and condemning because there is a right, wrong going on in their head. This is the right way to do this. And this is the wrong way. And taken to the extreme is I must be right. And other people, if you’re not doing it this way, you’re wrong. And there’s something wrong with you, even more importantly. So, that’s how it can show up. And so, it’s really important to recognize it in yourself and saying, “Wow, you know what? Do I always have to win? Do I always have to be seen? Do I sort of passive aggressive, do I control the situation subtly by resisting getting it done when I could probably get it done, but I’m not going to get it done because they don’t appreciate me, and so, why should I? Or do I think that I need to be right all the time.
And so being aware of it, and then aware of the impact on your success on your happiness, on your relationships, being aware of that, and then choosing and saying, what am I going to do with that? Am I going to continue to do it the same way I’ve always done it? Or is it worth changing for so I can get a better result? And the reality is when we look at what we really want, what do we all want? We want to love and be loved, we want to connect, we want to work in a workplace where we feel valued, and we’re able to contribute. And so, is what we’re doing, is the behavior that we’re exhibiting, is that getting us what we really want? And if it’s not, what do I want, if it’s not getting me what I want, then maybe it’s time for me to make a change. And then it is about developing the new beliefs and habits that support that because it’s not just a decision, it’s following through on that decision, and actually breaking the pattern of justification or frustration or criticism, or always having to be the one who speaks up and talks to the group. Those kinds of things.
I want to get into this a little deeper because I love this idea that your greatest strength, for example, somebody who’s in that D personality, that is a leader, that’s dominant, that can take charge of things, is also so closely related to that weakness that you see, the negative side of the ego, and all the personality types, you said. It’s almost like just the other side of the edge that takes a difficult balance to find how you can both be correct all the time, but not be condemning of other people. So, if you don’t mind, can you tell me your story in terms of what’s your dominant personality and how you’ve matured in such a way to embrace your strengths, but then also manage your ego at the same time?
Yes, absolutely. So, my personality type is predominantly the D personality types. So I like to I’m a driver, and I like to take action, I like to get results. And so, where it’s come up for me is I remember when I was a young leader of a team, probably in my early 20s, and I was driving towards a result. And we had a goal for that month. And I pushed and I pushed, and we got to the goal. But I went to the extreme of pushing so I had people that responded. And as I said, we got to the goal but it’s kind of like that old saying, you win the battle, lose the war. Because after that, people, I noticed, they checked out. And the business was actually worse off before and our results were worse off the following month than they were even before we hit the goal. So, what I realized in that moment and saying, Wow, how badly did I want that? And that was really me, it was all me, I wanted to get to that goal, I wanted to achieve that result so that I could get acknowledged for it. And that I could feel that sense of accomplishment. But I did it at the sacrifice of the people on my team. And it wasn’t worth it because I saw the cost of it in my relationships with them and in their own confidence. And so, I realized that as much as that was a short-term win, it actually cost me tremendously in the long run for my ultimate end the game of what I was there to do. So, I learned it the hard way.
It’s shown up in different ways as well, in terms of just always wanting to be right, always wanting to be the one out front, and also wanting to win. And so, I checked myself. And I asked myself, actually it’s interesting, at one point, I’m divorced now, but while we were married, and my husband was unfaithful, and he was unhappy, and so forth. And I was committed to us resolving this and getting through this. And he actually said something to me, which was really interesting. He says, “you just want to win.” And I asked myself, is that really true? And that’s where the reflection comes in, if you can stop and check in with yourself and saying, is that really true? And not just say, that’s not true. You don’t understand. And stop and ask yourself, and when I did, I was like, is there a measure of truth in that? So, it caused me to step back and ask myself, what’s really driving me here? What’s really motivating me here? And to make sure that I still continue to commit to the relationship. But it did help me to make sure that I’m doing it for the right reasons and not because I simply want to win.
Well, thanks so much for sharing that personal side of things. I think, like you said, we learn it the hard way, I think all of us do, no matter what our personality is. There’s no guidebook that says, Hey, watch out for this before it comes. I think we all hit that point where we hurt somebody, or we hurt a team, or we fail at something and have to step back and realize these things. So, it’s great to know that you can learn from them and to see the maturity you can get to afterwards. Nicole, where can people go to get in touch with you more and see more of your stuff?
Sure. So, Neil, I put together a designated page for your listeners. And it’s on my website, discovertheedge.com is the main website, but the designated page is discovertheedge.com/workminus, and we’ll have some free resources there. And also a link where people want to have a conversation, talk about what’s going on within their team, they can book a time and we can have a free conversation.
Fantastic. Well, thanks for welcoming our guests so well. It’s very nice of you.
My pleasure. And thank you for having me.
It’s been a great show. I really appreciate you sharing your insights. And we look forward to interacting more.