Realities in recent times have demanded a new approach to leadership. I recently had a very stimulating dialogue with a group of CEO’s about the difference between the ego and the soul and what it all has to do with being an influential leader. In an age of spiritual awakening and consciousness, leaders driven by their ego will soon become obsolete.
The ego, that mental image of yourself formed from your personal and cultural conditioning, attempts to provide you with a sense of security, safety, and worth. Your ego demands recognition and wastes energy in resentment if it doesn’t get enough attention. But the ego, by it’s very nature, is empty. It’s like a hole inside of us that is in a continual state of dissatisfaction and restlessness, constantly pursuing “more” to fill itself up. To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only the past and future are important to the ego, for these are what it depends on for its survival.
While the ego is essentially dysfunctional, there are times when it can be a positive, necessary force, such as when growing into adulthood or pursuing certain goals. Then the ego can be helpful, providing you can observe it and not get attached.
There also resides in each of us, to a lesser or greater degree, an authentic self, a soul, an essence of who we really are. Your soul doesn’t care about rejection, titles, possessions, successes, failures, or how scared you are. The soul cares only about expanding and expressing itself. It is your guide, and your true source of power.
This inner source of strength comes from developing your capacity to delay gratification, learning to courageously face the demands of reality without escaping, developing the capability to see the long-term effects of actions, and achieving quietness of mind. Such cultivation requires a lifetime of dedicated personal work, guided by masters. A cultivated, integrated authentic self is, in today’s world, a leader’s greatest tool. Cultivation, or becoming more fully human, is the primary leadership issue of our time and lies at the core of our work.
Deciding to embark on this arduous journey called leadership requires a decision to go inside yourself and learn to discern the impulse of the ego from the voice of the soul. If a decision comes from the ego, you’ll never be satisfied. You’ll always want more. Authentic leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great organization. It’s not that authentic leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the greater good, not themselves.
I end this with a wonderful poem attributed to a Chinese sage, Wu Wei Wu:
Why are you so unhappy? Because ninety-nine percent of what you think, and everything you do, is for yourself, and there isn’t one.”
How are you leading authentically?