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Get out of your mind and lead!

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A Leaderhip Urban Legend

There is an urban legend that goes something like this. A proud U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was sailing along one dark night when the navigator noticed a light directly ahead. He quickly notified the Captain who immediately got on the radio. Here is the exchange that followed:

Captain: “Unknown vessel, you are on a collision course to our position. Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Unknown Voice: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Captain: “This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Unknown Voice: “This is a Petty Officer 2nd Class. Please divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South.”

Captain: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS NIMITZ, ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE UNITED STATES’ PACIFIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. WE HAVE ON BOARD AN ADMIRAL. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT IS ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP!!”

Unknown Voice: “This is a light house. It’s your call.”

This story incidentally turns out to be completely untrue (I don’t want all my Navy readers to write me nasty emails). However, it is a prime illustration of how a leader’s Ego can allow them to create a perspective of reality that could be damaging, in more ways than one.

 

Can you see the Ego?

Eckart Tolle describes the Ego as that voice in your mind which tells you that you are better, or worse, than someone else. In this story, the Captain’s ego clearly is at work because he is placing his perceived importance ahead of situational awareness.

This story came to mind recently when I was working with some senior executives to implement new operational procedures to support a new computer system. These procedures were developed by a team of Subject Matter Experts from across the company who worked for the better part of a year to ensure they were consistent across the company.

As often happens, the new system and related procedures meant that some people and, in some cases entire departments, would have to change the way things get done. (The equivalent of the “divert your course” request.)

One senior leader, however, was particularly adamant that the new procedures placed an undue burden on their team and therefore were unacceptable. When asked why, they insisted that financial reporting would be compromised and that they would not be able to effectively execute ongoing initiatives. This leader further went on to say that they were going to escalate this to the business unit Finance Leader if things didn’t stay the way they were. (The equivalent of the Captain’s rant about the size and importance of the aircraft carrier.)

I then explained that the new system and related procedures were actually requested by the company Chief Financial Officer, who is the Finance Lead’s boss. (The equivalent of the “This is a lighthouse” notification.)

Did it really have to get that way?

Why do some people respond to situations, changes, or a difference of opinion with such a visceral reaction? Think about your own experiences when you have seen someone’s ego at work in a similar fashion. What were the circumstances? What pieces of information did the Ego not see?

The Ego tends to trip us up when we face a situation from inside our own mind rather than from the circumstances of the reality of the situation.

 

Now, don’t be confused we all have an Ego. It’s part of our human packaging. Your Ego is the voice that tells you the new guy knows nothing of value because their experience comes from a different company. And your Ego is the voice that tells you don’t have the right to question decisions because someone smarter than you must have determined that this is the best thing to do, even if it doesn’t seem so. The Ego is also part of our lives for a reason. It helps us to get up and want to succeed. But when left unchecked, it can take us on a dangerous path: like towards a light house.

 

A leader’s responsibility is to be aware of yourself enough to recognize when the voice that you are listening to is your Ego. This Self Awareness is also the first step in Emotional Intelligence.

A leader’s responsibility is to get out of your mind enough to listen to the people around you and see the situation for what it is.

Only then can you accurately respond to your environment and influence those people to whom you owe effective leadership.

Get out of your mind and Lead

So, the next time you find yourself in a difficult position and are feeling the weight of leadership, ask yourself if the voice you are listening to is really your Ego. Be honest with yourself. Get out of your mind and be a Leader!

________________

Dave Hasenbalg is President of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership and Operational Excellence. This article and others from Dave can be found at: www.linked2leadership.com He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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Dave Hasenbalg has spent the last 20 years leading, coaching, and consulting businesses to find solutions to real-world challenges by illuminating blind spots, building better teams, and coordinating action that produces results. He has an expertise in developing leaders, bringing about change in organizations of all sizes, and eliminating the impediments to effective execution. His practical background is as a military officer as well as a leader in cutting edge, non-profit, and Fortune 100 companies.

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