Today, in companies all around the world, time, money and energy are being wasted.
Lots of things cause this – breakdowns in IT systems; procedural errors; production mistakes that necessitate remanufacture (to name but a few).
But one of the things that costs businesses far too much – and that is within each and every person’s control to do something about – is the fragile human ego.
How can the ego lead to waste in organisations? Very easily and very frequently is the answer.
- We waste time in meetings arguing a point that is already lost because we don’t want to be seen to give in.
- We sulk and refuse to participate fully in discussions because we perceive that someone has cut us off when we were in full flow, sharing our brilliant ideas.
- We avoid saying what needs said because we’re scared someone will ridicule us or we’ll look stupid.
- We get offended and become demotivated because someone else takes the credit for our ideas.
- We get hung-up about why someone else has been invited to the big meeting and we haven’t.
All of these – and many more – are everyday occurrences in business. And they are all caused by us protecting our ego. The workplace would be a far healthier and more energetic place if we were all less protective of our egos!
I read a story some years ago that can help us do just that – from The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life Now by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander (Harvard Business School Press, 2000):
Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state.
Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologises, and withdraws.
The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.
When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of this Rule Number 6?”
“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously.’”
“Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?”
“There aren’t any.”
The Zanders’ tale is a valuable reminder when my own tender ego gets in the way and I find myself ruminating on some perceived slight, or feel snubbed by someone else. It calms me down and makes me smile every time – and helps me get back to work and refocus on things that are far more important and productive.
So, whenever you’re experiencing stress or anxiety at work due to a knock to your ego – remember Rule Number 6!