The Third Turn

Dr. Mark L. Vincent's Blog

Damage in the Wake of Ego

Posted by Mark L. Vincent on Feb 4, 2021 9:00:00 AM
It is no secret that a leader's ego strength is vital to staying the course and bringing something new and better to the world, especially when done through an organization and the labor of others. If they are unsure of themselves or uncertain about how to proceed, how would they even get started, let alone sustain the effort? 
And yet, the ego stories we know best are the infamous ones that cause damage: leaders who cannot listen or reflect, leaders who dismiss people in order to bring in their own team (losing significant institutional memory and value), leaders who cannot admit mistakes and therefore cannot learn.
Leaders like these leave nearly incalculable damage in their wake. 
Perhaps the following illustration can help us get a more complete picture.
One of our daughters is a caregiver, assisting vulnerable seniors and disabled persons in their homes. Her underpaid and under-resourced field becomes even more critical during a pandemic. It is a work for people who know they are created to help and are filled with love. She bathes and dresses, cooks and shops, dispenses meds and helps people get in and out of bed. Morning and night. Almost always in split shifts.
An 80-something woman she cared for, alongside numerous other caregivers and transportation specialists, recently exposed the lot of them to COVID. The woman was living her life - apparently wearing a mask wherever she went and washing her hands: tea with friends, nail and hair salons, shopping and dining, visits with neighbors, and more. After she was hospitalized with COVID-related double pneumonia, contact tracing puts my daughter and a half-dozen caregivers out of work for at least two weeks.
Following all the lost income are the downstream effects this pause in employment has on their families and local economies. With the potential health risks all these caregivers heroically and repeatedly face, the care-giving community becomes even more short-handed than it already is - which places even more people at risk.
Was this woman within her rights? Yes. We might even admire her courage to keep living well in the face of life challenges! And yet, she was not calculating the downstream effects of her choices in the moment and context. If she did think of them, she determined it worth the risk anyway.
Senior leaders can place freedom to choose and act (simply "because they can") in a highest place without regard for people or other damage downstream. In doing so, even in pursuit of what on the face seems worthy, they bring devastation. Careers get derailed, the sustained and patient effort of transformation and creating future value gets abandoned, and the entire enterprise can crack as wide open as the proverbial Humpty Dumpty.
We cannot foresee all downstream costs like these, but we can be alert for them. We cannot see around corners, but we can acknowledge that corners are there. We cannot afford to be risk-averse, but we can surely be more risk aware. We cannot provide for all people at all times, but we can ask ourselves - repeatedly - what we want for our grandchildren's grandchildren and whether the actions we contemplate will enhance or diminish their hope and opportunity.
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Topics: Mark L. Vincent, Design Group International, selfless leadership, Maestro-level Leaders, The Third Turn, listening, ego, actions


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