Taming the ego could have deep repercussions on how we structure and run organizations. Many of the corporate ills today can be traced to behaviors driven by fearful egos: politics, bureaucratic rules and processes, endless meetings, analysis paralysis, information hoarding and secrecy, wishful thinking, ignoring problems away, lack of authenticity, silos and infighting, decision-making concentrated at the top of organizations, and so forth.
Does it sound like something you have experienced at work ? Very likely, right?
A lot of what Frederic Laloux describes in « Reinventing Organizations » has to do with our worldview. Can we consider different type of organizations although we have been entrenched in ours for so many years? Probably since we have started to work, or even since our parents did. Amber Orange organizations (and societies) are mostly ego-driven. The shift to Evolutionary-Teal happens when we learn to disidentify from our own ego.
Here, I would like to briefly discuss what « ego » means as there might be some confusion if you have not read Laloux’s book.
I have meet with several managers over the years who believe that « having a strong ego » is indeed a good thing. As a matter of fact, they felt that this was one of the key qualities managers should be able to display in order to lead.
The way I look at the ego is very simply everything which leads to separation. Separation from others, from self even. And there are so many ways in which we act that bring separation: Judgment, blame, resentment, talking about others, putting ourselves or others on a pedestal, … Many spiritual teachings describe the path to liberation from the ego as a path towards unity. Therefore, “having a strong ego” can be misleading. Assertiveness expressed consciously can indeed be a great “tool” as long as it is not meant to bring more separation !
Giving power to the ego can indeed be very damaging as it « consumes » so much of our energy in activities that are counter-productive. Our egos often do a very good job at separating us from what is. At work, this can take many different forms: forcing our point of view, thinking as « we-they » or « I-He/She » , as « I win-He loses » or vice versa.
I have chosen below a couple of excerpts from Laloux’s book which describe it very well.
This longing for wholeness is at odds with the separation that most existing workplaces foster, albeit unconsciously—overemphasizing the ego and the rational while negating the spiritual and emotional; separating people based on the departments they work in, their rank, background, or level of performance; separating the professional from the personal; separating the organization from its competitors and the ecosystem it is embedded in. Vocabulary we use is often revealing: in organizations, we often speak about “work-life balance”, a notion that shows how little life is left in work when we have separated ourselves from so much that truly matters”
They put on a professional mask, conforming to expectations of the workplace. In most cases, it means showing a masculine resolve, displaying determination and strength, hiding doubts and vulnerability. The feminine aspects of the self—the caring, questioning, inviting—are often neglected or dismissed. Rationality is valued above all other forms of intelligence; In most workplaces the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts of ourselves feel unwelcome, out of place. Organizations are for the most part, in the true sense of the word, soulless places—places inhospitable to our deeper selfhood and to the secret longings of our soul”
If you have been kind enough to follow this blog for the last few years, the fact that I chose to highlight the above will not come as a surprise ! I have written on these very aspects of « ecological workplaces ».
The first thing is really to be able to discern how we operate.
By looking at our ego from a distance, we can suddenly see how its fears, ambitions, and desires often run our life. We can learn to minimize our need to control, to look good, to fit in. We are no longer fused with our ego, and we don’t let its fears reflexively control our lives. In the process, we make room to listen to the wisdom of other, deeper parts of ourselves.
And this is where developing mindfulness can be of great help. Mindfulness will indeed give you that space from which you can indeed look from a distance, and witness your patterns and behaviors.
So, what does it look like to be driven, not by fear, but by a higher purpose, a sense of wholeness, our soul ?
What replaces fear? A capacity to trust the abundance of life. All wisdom traditions posit the profound truth that there are two fundamental ways to live life: from fear and scarcity or from trust and abundance. In Evolutionary-Teal, we cross the chasm and learn to decrease our need to control people and events. We come to believe that even if something unexpected happens or if we make mistakes, things will turn out all right, and when they don’t, life will have given us an opportunity to learn and grow”
If all you have known in your professional life are workplaces where politics and conflicts were the rule, it may be nearly impossible to consider that something else can exist. And that has to do with our worldview as discussed at the beginning. Do we see the world as a place of dangers where we are better off protecting ourselves from external (perceived) risks (.i.e separation) or a place where we can take bold steps towards authenticity, vulnerability, trust and wholeness ?
This is why I see Frederic Laloux’ s book as so inspiring as he provides many examples of corporations where this worldview has been developed and fostered while providing exceptional business results at the same time.
In subsequent posts, we will look at how this get applied in very concrete ways in teal organizations.
And you, would you say your workplace is driven by the ego ? How ?
Or a sense of trust and wholeness ? Thank you.