Three ways ego is holding you back

By Belinda Gannaway, Strategy Director, Fathom XP

If there’s one place to dance, it’s Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City. The music, the moonlight, the people. It’s pure bucket list.

Sadly, not for me. Because I can’t dance – not really dance. So I didn’t. I sat it out and laid down a different memory. A memory of stopping myself doing something.



The protective cloak

Dr Herbert Schofield from Loughborough University describes ego as the anaesthetic that nature gives us to deaden the pain of being a fool. I like this. But it doesn’t capture the self-limiting aspect of ego.

For that I prefer the definition I’ve borrowed from our partner Hazel Lowndes at Ginger Dog. She describes ego as a protective cloak we wear in public so people don’t see the real, always-learning, never-perfect version of ourselves.

Back in Mexico I wore this protective cloak to ensure I didn’t expose my incompetence to the world.

It serves a purpose this cloak of ours. But it’s also a problem, because it’s cumulative. The more we wear it, the more we need to wear it and the thicker it gets.

On an organisational level, this has many consequences. In the work we do at Fathom XP – creatively supporting change programmes – we regularly see at least three negative consequences of corporate ego. There are many more besides.

1.Ego prevents creativity, experimentation and innovation

When the world demands businesses change and adapt, we need bold failures. We need to try new things. And not all of them will work. But if we’re always conscious about projecting a perfect version of ourselves to the rest of the world, how can we ever be comfortable with experiments that ‘fail’?

2.Ego blocks empathy

Whether that’s with your consumers, your employees or your would-be partners, it’s never been more vital to walk in other people’s shoes to better understand and meet their needs.  But if you’re busy pretending you’ve already got all the answers, why would you bother trying to better understand the problem?

3.Ego hijacks collaboration

One of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous defined ego as “a conscious separation from”. From what? Everything and everyone – our customers and employees, but also our peers. The not-born-here mentality is truly alive and well and it stops different futures evolving. Ego builds walls when what we need to innovate and succeed at pace is bridges.

We were working recently with a client on their employer brand. The EVP they’d arrived at resonated with the board – it was largely about quality and tradition. We weren’t convinced. So we went exploring.

I sat down with one young man. When I asked him why he’d recommend working here, his eyes filled up. “I’ve never felt more at home. Been more myself. Felt more like I belong somewhere,” he said.

It turns out, he’d never come out at home in Poland. Not to his family or friends, and certainly not to his colleagues. But the feeling of inclusiveness, of acceptance, of belonging in this organisation, just made it natural.

And we heard it time and time again, how people felt they belonged. How they could be themselves. How they felt like part of the family from day one.

The board had too – heard it, I mean. They knew it. But they hadn’t felt it. Because they were so convinced they already knew the answer. And their answer was the quality and heritage of the brand. Their ego was standing in the way of their empathy – their ability to feel what their people felt about the business and respond creatively and as one unified operation.

So, if you can do one thing to keep your ego in check – listen.


Listen to your kids when they tell you, you know nothing.

Listen to your people when they tell you your employee experience is not what you think it is.

Listen to your critics and your competitors when they tell you change is coming and you’d better work better together to ride it.

And whatever you do, don’t sit out the next dance, because it could be one of your defining moments.

Fathom XP is a creative change agency – helping to attract talent and unlock the power of your people. We curate authentic employer brands and deliver creative activations that bring change to life for everyone.

First published on Comms leaders 14.03.19




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