Open dialogue and collaboration can take your organization to the next level of success when exceptional ideas are embraced for their inherent value, regardless of the source. Being able to listen to grassroots and world-renowned thought leaders and champion employee-engagement and customer-feedback programs requires checking your ego at the door—and getting your managers to do the same.
Being receptive to ideas from unlikely sources is scary. Interacting with people who aren't members of your senior management team, who don't think like you and who aren't accustomed to facing challenges like you can be exhausting. It involves taking risks with people who aren't proven innovators. But letting go of your ego can allow you to connect with people who may be envisioning greater things than you've ever imagined.
You don't have to disengage your intellect, turn off your reasoning powers or shut down your logic. But you'll likely need practice in letting others share the spotlight and learning how to get rid of ego.
Here are ways to check your ego at the door:
1. Focus on the team's goal, not individual bragging rights.
Forget whether you're in the role of leader or follower. Engage and listen to people who are more talented (in certain areas) than you are. Think less about yourself and the managers you've nurtured. Reflect more about your front-line team members' insights as you pursue goals for innovation and improvement together.
Accept and appreciate that many types of people and points of view are needed to design a new process that solves a customer's problem, react to changing conditions in the marketplace or find real-world applications for lofty ideas and new inventions.
Let go of your ego and embrace the idea that others have distinctive and valuable skills, experiences and knowledge.
2. Recognize that creativity, wisdom and brilliance are packaged in many different forms.
You may have honed your business acumen and skills in public speaking, storytelling, executive decision making, team leadership and people motivation through long years of training and experience. You may be (rightly) proud of the person you've become as the result of these efforts. You may expect that all members of your team have pursued the same paths of professional development.
But consider letting go of ego and its expectations that all employees should emulate you in terms of professional luster. Understand that many may have had more pressing concerns that preempted such training or didn't realize that certain opportunities were available. Put your preconceptions on pause and realize that the most eloquent or persuasive speaker is not always the person who dreams up the best ideas.
You may be surprised to learn that the plainest speaker may be the most innovative thinker. You might find that the quirky, the ornery or the humorous hold the answers to your most complicated questions, give the insights to help you empathize with your customers or articulate the strategic direction that meshes well with your business goals.
3. Acknowledge that anyone can contribute to the conversation, analysis and, ultimately, execution.
In the process of letting go of ego, release misperceptions of others’ capabilities based on specific types of experiences or other external measures.
You may be unaware that, in the past, front-line employees have offered ideas that improved workflow, made your company more responsive to customer demands and reduced operating costs. You might not know which customer-facing employees forged long-term relationships that grew gross margins.
Realize that anyone can offer insights that equip your organization to tap a new market, disrupt the industry or boost profits. Concede that sound ideas and fresh insights can come from someone whether he is knowledgeable about or oblivious to how things have always been done or whether she has been involved in just one improvement project or witnessed innovation over many years.
4. Appreciate those who seem less astute than you.
Ideally, you'll want to gain a genuine regard for those who may not appear to be as ostensibly shrewd as you. But even if you hold onto the idea that you're the top person in the room in terms of vision and credentials, knowing what inspires other people is extremely useful.
Your employees may share the traits of your target audience. Getting the most from your team can best be accomplished if you let go of your ego and consider different perspectives. You'll benefit from understanding how your team members and your customers think, predicting how they'll react to offers, evaluating how they spend their money, etc.
Sure, they may seem less fashion-oriented and technologically-savvy than you and your management team, and not nearly as on top of trends. But those who are not innovators and early adopters buy stuff and influence people too.
5. Learn something new.
If you're truly interested in learning how to get rid of ego, try becoming a newbie at something. Resolve to master a new skill, gain expertise in a new area or accomplish both.
At some point between starting and mastery, you will likely feel doubt and frustration. Let go of your ego and ask for help. Find someone who knows more about a subject and get schooled in your new endeavor.
You'll likely gain respect for those in other fields, specifically those with proficiency in an exclusive niche. Patience for others—particularly those still learning in your area of expertise—will grow. In addition, you may gain strengths in recognizing talent and extracting insights from other people.
6. Solicit and apply useful feedback.
When getting feedback, avoid the compulsion to interrupt, defend yourself or turn any less-than-praiseful comment into a condemnation of your entire project, program or product line.
Accept that you should pay attention during conversations even if the other person, department or group may not be correct, may not fully understand your perspective and may not grasp your role or intent.
By listening patiently, you'll gain deeper understanding of how you, your team and your ideas are perceived. You may be able to gather information that will allow you to hone your message, make a more meaningful promise and find more customers who need what your organization offers.
7. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.
Acknowledge your realms of capability and your areas of struggle as a way of letting go of ego. This process can help you more clearly define the professional attributes that complement you and threaten you.
Future conversations with team members can be framed with a deeper understanding of where you excel and where you may need extra guidance.
8. Don't be afraid to try out a new idea.
Many great ideas get tossed out because managers are afraid of failure. Certainly, you ought to devise plans that will lead to success and minimize the possibility of failure. At the same time, though, think about how you can let go of your ego and free yourself to experiment with something new.
When trying a new idea, find ways to minimize the potential for negative impact and financial consequences in a trial phase. Attend to details significant to an effective launch. Consider starting small when experimenting with a novel concept.
9. After test runs, reflect on the worthiness of ideas and their execution.
When evaluating a test project's success or effectiveness, let go of ego so you'll assess fairly. Before an implementation, determine the results you seek and what metrics you'll use to define a triumph. Look at all aspects of design and execution, not simply the ones you spearheaded or those you silently questioned.
Learn from all efforts, wildly successful ones as well as seemingly disastrous ones. Notice how processes and outcomes differed from or matched expectations. Gather and share lessons so everyone can gain insights and make improvements.
10. Listen to people with whom you are supposed to be connecting.
Checking for common understanding of topics, whether you agree with others' thoughts and perspectives, can teach you how to get rid of ego.
Notice how different people with differing styles convey ideas. Realize that some use subtle means of making a point, which encourages further inquiry and reflection. Others are direct, leaving no doubt of intent. Understand and value all styles of respectful communication.
Alone, you can make good decisions. Independently, you can craft a feasible, cost-effective plan suitable for your business's mission and team's goals. But collaboration means expecting and envisioning greater opportunities, ones that may have never occurred to you in solitude or just with your key managers.
Letting go of ego allows you to abandon the pursuit of approval, attention, appreciation and control. Ridding yourself of ego leads to channeling energy to discovering and building the best that's possible.
You may be the smartest, most talented and innovative person in the room. But being the brightest doesn't mean that you know everything, can envision every possibility, anticipate every problem or understand every opportunity. Consider letting go of your ego and encouraging your senior leaders to do the same. Work together on discovering the most effective solutions and the most exquisite possibilities for success in the coming years.
A version of this article was originally published on July 19, 2011.