Bye-Bye, Mr. Ego!
Yesterday in the car, my nine-year-old son, Jeremy, was telling me about their read-aloud unit in class (3rd grade). They’ve each been assigned to be a character in a book and they’re reading it aloud in groups. “To be honest, mom, I’m not crazy about the book – we’re reading Davy Crockett. But I get to be Davy, so that’s cool. I play Davy and the Sun.”
“The Sun?” I say. “The Sun has lines?”
“Yep. There’s one page where it’s all Davy and the Sun, so I read the entire page!” he said beaming from the backseat of the car. “But mom…Davy…he’s got such a huge EGO!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, wondering how a nine-year-old would define ego.
“Well” he explained, “when another character compliments him – which they do all the time – instead of saying ‘thank you’, he just says, ‘I know! And I’m good at THIS too! And THAT too! And THIS! And THAT!”
“So he brags a lot?”
“Well you know” I said, “It’s good to have confidence, but there’s a big difference between confidence and ego. What do you think it is?”
I peaked at him through the rear view mirror, as he sat back there silently contemplating. As we’re driving along, after about three minutes, when I thought he had checked out of the conversation, he says thoughtfully, “I think confidence is when you know you’re good, but you don’t feel like you have to tell everyone about it and make them feel bad.”
Such wisdom from a little guy. Humility.
So later that night, my kiddo and I cuddled up to watch Chopped before bed and there was an Executive Chef competing on the show who was….a piece of work. Throughout the show he was like a rooster strutting about, bragging, and superior, and condescending, and putting the others down. He was a talented chef for sure, but he brought no humility. And while I suspect some of it was dramatization for ratings, he still managed to drive us crazy. Without prompt, Jeremy points to the guy and says, “He’s like the Davy Crockett of chefs!” and we laughed.
For the rest of the show, we were rooting against “Mr. Ego”.
One of the things I talk about in my work is the importance of owning your power. The word power gets a bad wrap. It can be very polarizing. For some reason, when we talk about power in the context of work it tends to bring up visions of top-down, commanding and controlling leaders who will do anything to make themselves look good to win. But when you think of the word empower – to give someone the power – then all of the sudden we’re seeing sunshine and roses and happiness. The problem isn’t the power – it’s in how we wield it.
For the definition of personal power I like the most is: “Influence over others, the source of which resides in the person instead of being vested by the position he or s/he holds.”. And influence requires choice. It is different from force or coercion – it assumes that people are choosing. To choose something – to want it – is a heart decision. While logic may play a role, logic will always be overturned by that “gut instinct”, by desire – by the heart.
So someone, who may be very talented, and very aware of their talents (a la Davy Crockett) but turns everyone else around him off because of how he makes them feel, is not, in my definition, powerful at all. This person has no real influence.
At the end of the show, when it was down to the final two contestants and we were waiting to see who would get “chopped”, we sat chanting, “Chop Mr. Ego! Chop Mr. Ego!” (hey, he started it!).
And sure enough, when the big reveal was made, Mr. Ego’s dish was on the chopping block.
And it was a strange mixture of vindication and relief and sadness I felt, as Mr. Ego took his “walk of shame” down the corridor, making his snide remarks about the talented young chef who had beat him.
For underneath the cloak of “I’m-better-than” I have to believe that there is someone who is not so sure he is as good as he claims to be. For if someone is truly powerful do they ever need to make someone else smaller?
And while I can empathize with him, I have to admit, I was still glad he lost.
Bye-bye, Mr. Ego!
©OnStage Leadership, 2014
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