On ego

In my last blog post, I wrote:

Ideally, an organization is adding value to the world by serving its customer in ways that provide its staff with meaningful, valuable work. In this way, as we work together, we each find satisfaction in our work while making the world better for everyone.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work out as often as we’d like. Why is this?

One of my favorite television shows is The Wire. From one perspective, The Wire is about dysfunctional organizations. The people working in these organizations have forgotten that their purpose is to make the world better by serving others. Instead, the organization has become a way to advance their personal goals, agendas, and status. Often in The Wire, you see people evaluating situations not by an honest assessment of what will advance the goals of the organization but by what will preserve their positions, wealth, status, and influence.

This is poison to an organization. And you see it play out in The Wire all the time. Sometimes, it seems like those dedicated to the mission of the organization are actively punished for their dedication. (And yes, I totally acknowledge that McNulty does seem to go out of his way to draw the wrath of his superiors. My point remains.)

This isn’t just a fictional issue. Every organization must face this issue, or it will find that its ability to reach its goal will be harmed or completely destroyed.

Which is all nice to say, except that ego–or better yet, pride–resides in all of us, and it pounces when we least expect it.

Let me tell on myself. A few years ago I was involved in a corporate relocation. Want to see the worst aspects of an organization on display? Buy a new building, and watch everyone maneuver to get the best for themselves: the best seat, the best office, the best departmental workspace. And, as the one coordinating it all, I had a front seat to it all.

Then, a new proposal came out, suggesting that my department be moved. And the big, beautiful office that I was slated to receive would go to someone else.

And, despite all my protests about humility, about “the best for the organization”, about how it’s supposed to be “about the work”…I dug in my heels. Because my office was at stake.

And I saw what I had done, and I hated myself for it.

Ego–pride–is the bane of any organization. It rots the links that bind us together, it destroys our coordinated pursuit of a common goal, and it twists our meaningful work into self-serving effort.

And it is so seductive and oh so easy to fall into.

Oh so easy.

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2 responses to “On ego

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