Creating culture takes a lot of work. It’s not a one and done. It requires ongoing maintenance and nurturing to keep it healthy and in line with your values. Culture isn’t some ethereal abstract concept that exists and functions within a vacuum. It is created, influenced and dependent on leadership. And there enters the challenge.

protectAs leaders, we’re fallible human beings who have needs and desires. Culture provides a context in which we can, or don’t, achieve success. It a set of acceptable social rules, behaviors, language, symbols, rituals, dress…you get the picture. As leaders, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make sure culture is beneficial to the end game as well as supporting the development of those who operate within that context. So what happens when a leader needs and desires create a conflict between protecting their ego and protecting the culture?

I have seen this so many times. Even the most well-meaning leaders can fall prey to this challenge. We want to view leaders like the picture in this post, but at the end of the day, we are all just human beings trying to improve ourselves day after day. It takes a lot of work to move beyond your ego and protect your culture.

Here are a few tips to help keep things on track:

  • Practice self-awareness – The biggest risk to coddling your ego is to not be aware that you’re doing it. Many times, the biggest challenge I face when talking to leaders about this is helping them get to a place where they can even admit they’re protecting their ego. Give yourself a leg up and ask yourself some hard questions. What role does your ego play in your decisions and behavior as a leader?
  • Look for values – Usually, our egos don’t abide by the same values we have used to create the culture we believe will facilitate organizational success. Unless, of course, you want a culture of egomaniacs trying to keep your business thriving. Yeah, thought not. When we step back for a moment and see if there is values alignment, our ego becomes much more clear and we can adjust accordingly.
  • Find a drill sergeant – Every leader needs to have at least one person in their network that will give them a swift kick in the nether regions when they act up. Call them an accountability partner, a mentor or whatever suits your fancy. Just make sure they are painfully honest and won’t let you get away with anything. Egos are like mushrooms; they grow well in the dark and smothered in crap.
  • Reflect – Take some time to think back about your behavior and decisions. Don’t just occasionally remember it, put it as a date on your calendar. Yes, I just told you to put yet one more thing on your calendar. No guilt here. The amount of time you will spend trying to put out cultural fires caused by an unchecked ego is much less than 15-20 minutes of reflection.

For all you ego-stricken leaders out there who are mad at me for calling you out (I’m only half joking), what other things do you think can be done to protect culture over ego?

  • Ahh the formidable ego. A supremely challenging foe. A leader who has the ability to get out of his own way definitely has an edge on the competition. I like the suggestion about a drill sergeant for added accountability.

  • William Powell

    Thanks for your comment Branigan. Self leadership is critical…especially around ego.