This is the second in a four part series titled, “Why it is so Hard to Change”.
The ego is an interesting paradox. On the one hand it receives more than its fair share of criticism for being too domineering, self-serving, narcissistic, aggressive, and more. On the other hand, without our egos we would be nothing—we would not accomplish great things, make a difference in the world, act in plays, excel in sports, write memoirs, have successful careers or lead others. Like the shadow and the light, we need the ego—as long as it serves others and we do not serve it.
In the first blog in this series we discussed the traps that paradigms present and how being stuck in a particular paradigm suffocates change. When we are locked into the sureness of our paradigm, we invest significant energy in defending the certainty that we are right. From within our boxes of, for example, the “leader-as-warrior-paradigm”, we feel especially threatened by concepts like the soul, or love, or truth. This is because leaders locked in a leader-as-warrior-paradigm regard themselves as the inheritors of Darwinian notions of organizational evolutionary survival—since we are on top of the corporate food-chain, this argument goes, then who is anyone else (who, by inference, are lesser beings) to challenge this? A certain intellectual smugness results, and like-minded thinkers close ranks to support each other, creating what is commonly referred to these days as the “echo chamber“, a phenomenon strongly influenced and reinforced by both the mainstream and social media. Thus, to question the wisdom of the leader-as-warrior-paradigm is to risk seeming “odd” or out-of-step with traditional thinking, and to do so carries political risks that threaten the ego. In other words, introducing concepts outside of the norm of current corporate culture (a paradigm) is to risk an assault to the ego. As Carl Jung said, “The experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego”. The main impediment to change therefore is the lack of the necessary courage to accept a bruising of the ego.
A case study in the courage necessary to leave an old paradigm and brave the inevitable assault on the ego can be found in the story of Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, America’s 28th largest company. The old paradigm at Microsoft was, “A PC on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software”. The new paradigm is, “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” When you change the paradigm, you change everything. And the assault on the ego is both temporary and worthwhile. In the 3 1/2 years since becoming CEO, Nadella has resurrected a moribund Microsoft and generated more than $250 billion in market value—more than Uber and Airbnb, Netflix and Spotify or Snapchat and WeWork.
Try this for a week: Ask, What is your current paradigm—personally and organizationally? What would you like it to be? What do you need to change in order to manifest this new reality? If you have the necessary courage, your world, and therefore the world will change.
Please share your experiences by commenting on this blog—we will all be able to learn together this way.