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Reflect on the last significant conversation you had at work. It could be with one other person or in a meeting. Ask yourself, what was the most interesting or important thing I heard? If you are hard pressed to come up with something it could be that it was just a crappy encounter. Something big was supposed to be discussed or decided but instead it was just the same old b.s.

But I challenge you to think again. Can you describe the volume level of your ego? Were you thinking about how you wanted to influence the conversation? Did you walk in thinking you had the best idea? Did you have a predetermined notion of where you wanted this discussion to land? If so, your ego was cranked all the way to the max. When your mind is filled with “Me, Me, Me” there is no room for others.

But if you entered the conversation with a few ideas but you were interested…even excited…about hearing what was on other people’s minds then you had the volume turned down low enough to actually be engaged in a two way communication. We hear so much better when our own egos are in check. And when we hear better…when we leave space for others…then unexpected things can happen. There are reams of social science papers that describe that better decisions and more innovation occur when people are productively collaborating with each other.

So the trick is how do you tame your ego?

Let’s get real. For some of you it’s just not going to happen. It’s not part of your self definition or even your value system. You do believe you are the smartest person in the room and just your skepticism towards others causes you to dismiss them. So you folks can stop reading now. I’m not talking to you.

For the rest (the majority!) of you I have a few simple things you can do to quiet your ego and draw out the best in others so that you actually get good and interesting outcomes. And more importantly…you get higher degrees of leadership credibility and employee engagement.

  1. You need a mantra. Before you enter a meeting with one or more people repeat some kind of reminder to yourself. “Stop and listen before you speak.” “Open your mind.” “Hear from all before you offer.” “Be open to the conversation.” “It’s the people, stupid!” Pick something that is simple and that you can mumble to yourself while you are actually in the meeting. You will need constant reminding until you learn how to sit back more.
  2. Prepare a few great questions. Don’t stack the deck too much but you can get the conversation moving down a path that will facilitate a good exchange. If you want someone to take ownership of a project some good questions are: “What do you think will make this initiative grab attention or get the best output? Can you think of ways to expand your impact?” If you were doing this from a loud ego it would sound like, “Here’s what I need you to do and here’s what I expect.” I think you can figure out which message will actually get this person to step up.
  3. Get out of the way. While you are listening don’t think about what your response will be. Stay focused on what others are saying.
  4. Go with the flow. If the positive momentum is moving away from your ideas…but the ideas and solutions will do the trick…go with it. Get out of the way again. If you are less focused on selling your (sic. best) point of view you will not gain the enthusiasm of others. They might implement your plan but you will have lost so much in the process. Let go and let others lead the way.

If this sounds a bit zen and new-agey I can’t help it. Out there in the real world we have a clash of civilizations; the very western individualistic-competitive-big ego vs. the need for greater collaboration and engagement to actually thrive. So if you want to lead in ways that brings others into the fold you’ll have to bring it down a few notches.

And the other reason I can’t help sounding so zen is all those years of meditation and ashrams.

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