No Ego Book Book

No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results (By Cy Wakeman)

It’s a beautiful Monday. Your coffee is piping hot, the morning sun is streaming through your car window and you feel an overwhelming sense of peace and motivation as you begin your trek to work. It’s going to be an amazing, productive week! 

You walk inside, ready to take on the world.

“Good morning, Sharon!”, you announce, greeting her with a smile.

Sharon mumbles something back and seems on edge. The negativity is oozing from her pores like a slow stream of volcanic lava. 

“I have a serious problem and need to talk to you immediately,” Sharon spews. “Bob hasn’t been pulling his weight this morning and I don’t know why I’m even here if I have to work three times harder than he is to get anything done! And he’s being rude with me. It’s not fair, I can’t deal with it, and I think I just need to go home.” 

“I” think I need to melt into a puddle. There goes the sunshine. There goes the productivity. There goes the ego…but don’t fret. There are tools available to cope with this villainous ego, thanks to Cy Wakeman.

Wakeman identifies herself as a “drama researcher” and provides us with Reality-Based Leadership tactics to help eliminate that pesky ego we all both possess and encounter (but only daily, as she says) in No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results.”

Suffering Is Optional

The end-game here is learning how to shift the focus back to reality, not suffering. We’re all faced with unpleasant circumstances on the daily, so be it. You can coddle the BMWs (those who Wakeman depicts as lovers of bitching, moaning and whining) by lending an ear and giving into their tantrums. Or you can challenge them to hear the music, face the music, and ultimately drive successful results. Her studies reveal that leaders spend 2.5 hours per day dealing with drama that created emotional waste at work. That’s twenty-eight minutes longer than “Forrest Gump”(great flick, also a drama…but let’s face it, “Jenny” is more entertaining because her dramatic interludes are not affecting business productivity and overall morale at work). 

Our suffering does not come from our reality; it comes from the stories we make up about our reality.”

Gossip. Hurt feelings. Misinterpretation. Tattling on or judging others. These “ego behaviors” are the meat and potatoes of what a leader spends 32 percent of their time addressing, per Wakeman’s Reality-Based Leadership/Futures survey. Instead of impacting others through what you tell them, she encourages leaders to create impact by getting them to brainstorm solutions on their own. Questions like the following are suggested to prompt self-awareness and nip ego in the bud:

“What do you know for sure?” 

“What could you do right now to help?”

“Would you rather be right or happy?”

“What would great look like right now?”

The gears in our fictional Mary’s head start turning when presented with such questions, and reality shifts back into focus:  “I know that it’s a busy day and we’re probably all working as hard as we can. I could help by continuing to focus on my work and stop comparing others to myself. I would rather be happy and help our clients get in and out of the office as quickly as possible…that’s why I’m here. Great would involve assuming noble intent — maybe Bob is having just as rough of a day as I am and needs my support, not my judgement?”. The BMW suddenly veers off of the road to nowhere and is back on the path to success. 

Engagement Is Not Enough

Let’s face it, not all employees are as vested as others. Tom doesn’t bitch and moan about the new tardy policy because he understands that every minute of his paid time is essential, but Tammy sees things differently. She spreads her opinions like the plague, scoffing, gossiping and even sobbing when she gets penalized for being late five times in the past month. But if we engage everyone (both the “high performers” and the “egomaniacs”) we can bring forth overall positive change and boost business, right? No Ego suggests the latter: Big fat nope. Wakeman brings about an interesting point by suggesting that engagement is a personal choice. Leaders, in fact, can’t make or keep others happy. And it makes a lot of sense.

She focuses on three flaws regarding employee engagement:

  • Every employee’s vote counts the same
  • Leaders must create the perfect environment for employees to give the “gift” of their work
  • Engagement is the magic key to drive great results

Tom continues abiding by the policy and remains happy at work, while Tammy sports her permanent frowny-face from 9-5, unwilling to accept change. The real problem here is that one of these two lacks the secret ingredient of accountability, and according to Wakeman’s philosophies, a recipe without accountability does nothing more than transform engagement into entitlement.

Accountability to the Rescue

Everyone wants to see others get a good lashing for their mistakes, but are they willing to hold themselves accountable in the grand scheme of things? Not always, unfortunately. It’s up to each individual to step up to the plate, and the glorified leader is oftentimes expected to wave a magical wand (or paddle, perhaps), snap some sense back into the wrongdoer, and restore a fairy tale workplace. 

No Ego explores the reality that change, disagreements, discomfort and frustration “are all part of the price of workplace participation.” Key word being participation. Each of us have to live in those moments, but not all of us chose to accept them. And when we don’t hold ourselves accountable for the way we chose to handle those yucky realities, we miss out on the biggest prize of all: professional and personal growth.

So how do you coach the naysayers to be accountable? No Ego breaks down accountability into four simple factors (commitment, resilience, ownership and continuous learning) and later into five phases of development (challenge, experienced accountability, feedback, self-reflection and collegial mentoring). Following this handy dandy No Ego toolkit helps us incite other’s thoughts on how they can get on board. Or get off board, if they aren’t willing to commit.

As an example, Wakeman tells the story of a healthcare organization where she consulted. The occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) mandated that caregivers wear protective eyewear to shield them from serious infectious diseases. Of course, the toddlers started fussing. Despite an educational/training campaign full of pretty posters, team meetings, and updated performance management policies (which included possible termination if employees didn’t wear protective eyewear), minimal improvements were noted. The BMWs said “they were always careful,” throwing the new policies out the window. Invincible, egotistic, all-knowing gems, these people. Ego’s so big that even AIDS couldn’t get in their way!

Until Reality-Based philosophies were implemented. A new approach.

Donning the new eyewear become nonnegotiable. Managers met with employees individually and questioned their commitment to using the eyewear, and if there was any gripe, they were asked:

“What is your plan for becoming willing?”

“Why would you chose to risk your life rather than be safe?”

“What is something you, as an individual, could do to make a difference?”

A “how we can” attitude was adopted instead of a “why we can’t”. And exposure rates suddenly declined substantially. We begin to see the common theme here. When ego becomes the star of the soap opera, it can be redirected. No Ego invites us to facilitate conversations that lead people to find good answers themselves so life can go on and business continues to thrive. The lightbulb goes off and we realize that engagement is a wasted notion without accountability.

Our Takeaway

No Ego offers a different perspective on how to handle ego in the workplace when it decides to slap you in the face unexpectedly (as it so often loves to do). It reminds us that no one is perfect, and shifting ego back to reality and productivity is a mindset that takes daily practice, but is entirely attainable. Leaders should always invite feedback, but when the facts turn to fiction and the colorful scripts take over, it’s time to redirect. Wakeman concludes No Ego with an appendix chock full of self-reflection questions and tools that can be implemented into daily practice, and we encourage everyone struggling with ego at work to try these Reality-Based techniques. Doing so will help others become the very best version of themselves, along with reveal who isn’t willing to buy-in and stay the course. Your business, and your sanity, will thank you at the end of the day.