Ego tends to get bad rap—especially in the workplace. So is the ideal employee the person with no ego? And is that even possible? Jennifer Powers, professional coach and author, joins Xenium’s guest host Angela Perkins to chat about ego and its role in the workplace. We’ll cover the ways ego can hurt and help us, its ultimate purpose and how a little awareness can go a long way in harnessing the ego for good.
Brandon Laws: Hey. Welcome back for another episode of the Human Resources for Small Business Podcast. I’m your host as usual, Brandon Laws. But today, I’m going to step aside. Yup, Angela Perkins who has guest hosted for us in the past, she’s going to take the seat and interview Jennifer Powers who is a coach, a speaker, and a bestselling author of the book, Oh Shift! How to change your life with a little f’in shift.
Jennifer helps people speak their truth, be a powerful leader, she helps them tap into their strengths, tame their ego, which is what this podcast is all about, helps them be in flow and so much more than that. You can learn more about Jennifer and her work at JennifersPowers.com.
In this episode, Angela Perkins talks with Jennifer about whether our ego is our friend or foe and how we might be able to leverage our ego in personal interactions. We haven’t really done anything like this topic on the podcast so we thought who better than Angela to deliver content like this to you guys. This is a very unique subject. I think you’re going to really love what Angela and Jennifer talk about and I encourage you to go grab a notepad because there’s a lot of good takeaways that you can use in your personal and work life.
If you like what you heard today, please go over to Apple Podcast if you listen that way. Give us a 5-star review or feel free to reach out to us if you have any feedback. Email address is in the show notes. You can also tweet at us @XeniumHR or me @BrandonLaws. Enjoy the episode.
Angela Perkins: Jennifer, I am so excited to have you part of the show. Welcome.
Jennifer Powers: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
Angela Perkins: Well, you have been on my mind since we had a conversation along the lines of ego, friend or foe. I am really excited to share the message with the audience. And folks that are listening, if you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the true purpose of the human ego, you probably are thinking, “Well, ego is bad.” And if you’ve ever said the words, “She has an ego,” it’s not intended to be a compliment.
But Jennifer is here to tell us a little something about ego. And I want to hear from you specifically, friend or foe, Jennifer, is the ego a good thing? Do we all have it? What’s the story there?
Jennifer Powers: Well, diving right in. First of all, thank you for bringing this to the attention of others because I work with so many people who have gotten so much out of it. And I do want to say that this is my own personal impression of the ego. So there’s nothing like scientific. I’m not pretending that this is the ultimate truth. This is just one way of many ways that people can look at the ego.
Angela Perkins: Got it.
Jennifer Powers: All right.
Angela Perkins: Good position for us all.
Jennifer Powers: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And if it serves you, the listener, great. And if not, toss it. I always say, “Take what serves you. Leave behind what doesn’t.”
Angela Perkins: Yeah.
Jennifer Powers: So for me in my experience of my own self-reflection and working with so many clients through my coaching, it’s like the ego definitely exists in everyone. And I like to say it is an equal half of our whole and it’s a necessary half. We depend on our ego one hundred percent for survival. That’s the way I look at it. It is an important element, important, essential part of us for our survival in so many ways, right Angela?
And so because we are survivors and we are continually to evolve as even better and better survivors as humans, the ego is very important and present.
Angela Perkins: But wouldn’t you agree that when you talk about ego particularly in a professional environment, so at work for example, ego doesn’t typically – it’s not presented the way you just described it.
Jennifer Powers: No, because there is a way you can look at the ego through tainted glasses, meaning it’s an ugly thing or you can look at it as like I said an essential thing. So you will see a manifestation of the ego in the terms that people use it as a negative at work all the time. But you will also see the ego in the terms that I’m speaking of it most likely in yourself first. You’ll see that presence. And then you’ll be able to see it in others. But it is definitely different, Angela, than the ego that we’ve all heard like, “Oh, he’s got so much ego.” Or, “Oh, that’s so egoic.” Big ego. It’s not so much that. This is more the utilitarian definition of ego.
Angela Perkins: Sure. That makes sense. So in your book, Oh Shift! which is available on Amazon and a really great, fast, fun read, you speak specifically say, “Surrender your ego. Trust yourself.” So this is where it’s that two halves of a whole piece that you’re talking about. Talk to me a little bit more about what you’re intending with that statement.
Jennifer Powers: Yeah. So sometimes because we are all about staying secure, protecting ourselves, self-preservation, staying safe in a place that’s comfortable and not stretching yourselves, our ego helps us do all that. And so, if people want to be bigger, better, wiser, bolder then sometimes they have to put that protective ego aside for a second and let the other half of themselves sing.
It’s like how I say it. Like let the other half sing. And that other half is that one that just goes for it. It’s sort of with like a bit of reckless abandon where they just know that joy and success and anything is possible but they don’t have that side, the self doesn’t have the side that the ego has which is protective, and that’s why I say, they balance each other.
But what happens is when we’re playing small, when we stay small, we’re really only listening to our ego because our ego wants us to stay safe. Remember, its goal is survival. And so, it will look for the dark. It will work for the worst case scenario. It will look for why you shouldn’t take that leap because it really does have your bet interest involve when it comes to protecting you.
The self just wants to just bounce up and down and take the leap and go for it and sometimes we have to let that part of ourselves unleashed.
Angela Perkins: So ego is the great protector. I mean that’s a very positive way to think about something that is really not generally known as a positive.
Jennifer Powers: Yes. And when you think about it, anything that is positive can turn negative, right? So anything in excess like if we eat, can turn negative. So if you are finding someone who is egoic in sort of a negative, it’s probably them just being very protective or very fearful. Ego in my opinion is based in fear. So that fear makes them act a certain way. But really underneath it all, they’re just trying to practice a little self-preservation.
Angela Perkins: So I mean on that end, you’re a professional coach, how do you coach this? If we have listeners right now saying, “Gosh! Not only am I experiencing – I’m seeing now this other part of me and I want to be watchful and mindful of when the ego is at play because it’s really holding me back and protecting me. Thank you very much for the protection but I don’t want to be protected right now.” How do you coach folks and how can our listeners coach the people around them and even themselves around I guess awareness? Really it starts there.
Jennifer Powers: Well, yeah. You just took probably the listener who this is new for from 0 to 60 just in that awareness that you already have which is brilliant and really well-said. So let’s just go back and baby step it for a second.
First is really the understanding that there are potentially again, I’m offering this as something for you to play with in your minds, that there are two distinct parts of you. And those parts are equally important and that they will show up in any given moment based on what it is you’re trying to achieve or accomplish, protection or advancement, success, whatever.
So first of all, the awareness that there – we’re split down the middle, right? And then there’s this – I like to take clients through this observation period, sort of like not trying to do anything with them but just really be a student of themselves to observe the presence of ego, the presence of self, when one gets to have a louder voice, when the other one gets sort of pushed down or I don’t know, it’s just more submissive, just observe the tendency of the ego and the tendency of the self. That’s all really you can do in the beginning because there are so many different nuances and intricacies. It’s just like – you’ll be like amazed at like watching once you know how to call it out. It’s like oh my gosh!
And the best part about that is when you shine a light on something, nothing can live in the shadow. There’s no darkness. When you shine the light, it’s like, “Oh! Ego, I see you.” And when you can see something, that’s the first step to being able to obviously acknowledge it and thereafter change it.
Angela Perkins: Sure.
Jennifer Powers: So you have to be able to observe it and study it first.
Angela Perkins: What do you say to the listener right now that’s saying, “No, I observe it in everyone one else but I don’t have that problem.”
Jennifer Powers: Well, I would say bullshit because that is not – that is the easy – and I would say – I would also say, I think that’s not necessarily true. I think we deflect a lot of what we don’t want to look at in ourselves. I know I do this. Many times I caught myself doing this. Picking on someone else’s thoughts so that I don’t have to look at my own, right?
Angela Perkins: Sure. Sure.
Jennifer Powers: That is pure ego by the way because the ego just wants to protect us.
Angela Perkins: Yeah.
Jennifer Powers: But not make us want to change to do something uncomfortable, right? So I would say to that person, check in just a little bit and just sort of highlight that as an opportunity to recognize your ego at play.
Angela Perkins: Right. That statement or thought itself as the observation. Sure.
Jennifer Powers: Absolutely.
Angela Perkins: That makes sense. OK. So we’ve observed or we’ve understood that there are two. We’ve now observed it.
Jennifer Powers: Yeah.
Angela Perkins: What’s after that?
Jennifer Powers: So then, you hit on something. You said, “Thank you, ego. Thank you very much.” Once you acknowledge that the ego exists and the self exists, there is an opportunity to show gratitude for it. And the reason you want to show gratitude for it and if you think about your relation-building, relationship-building with others, you can get so much more leverage and so much further with someone when you show gratitude to them, wouldn’t you say?
Angela Perkins: Absolutely.
Jennifer Powers: So the same thing goes with yourself. You have to not like want to rip apart and shoot down your ego. You have to actually in order for it to work with you, I think it’s a great practice to show appreciation for it. And you can do that by not criticizing it when you see it arise, not judging it, just acknowledging it.
And then when you’re acknowledging it then you can show gratitude for it. Thank you so much for keeping me safe. It’s exactly what you said. Thank you so much for looking out for me. I really appreciate you. I know what you’re up to. You’re awesome. Thank you.
And some people do that in the form of like a letter to their ego. Some people – I’ve had clients who sit their ego down next to them. Some people give their ego a name. Some have drawn it and have picture of it. And they can either write a letter to it or speak to it and then just really appreciate it.
When you can appreciate your ego, now you’ve opened up space to be able to work with it because remember, you can’t be very productive when there is stress and judgment and conflict. You’ll always going to have more success and productivity when you’re released of all that and you have acceptance and joy and calmness. So yeah.
Angela Perkins: You know what I’m visualizing right now is those old cartoons that have the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.
Jennifer Powers: Yes!
Angela Perkins: It’s a little bit like that. And you’re listening to both sides and you’re saying, “I see what you’re trying to do here but I really am thinking this way.” And so, it’s funny to visualize it operating in that way.
Jennifer Powers: That’s exactly – that’s a beautiful visual. It’s very much the way I see it.
Angela Perkins: So how does this – you often have the whole word insecurity tied again to this, “Oh, he has an ego. He must be insecure.” There’s then some truth to that, right? In the sense of fear of change, fear of risks, wanting to be safe, all of those kinds of things linked and tied to insecurity so it’s not really all off-base some of the traditional ways that we think about ego.
Jennifer Powers: Right. And what I think might be more productive in the traditional way is to look at it as a good thing first so you can understand it versus all nasty.
Angela Perkins: Absolutely. And I – I mean personally, that’s really why I wanted you to be on the show is specifically around seeing the good side of ego and understanding the purpose because I think once you really understand why it’s there then you do see there’s value that comes out of listening to that voice every once in a while or at least understanding where it’s coming from so you can kind of apply it.
So on the show, we have mostly small to mid-size business leaders, so folks that are coaching and managing their own teams and we have a lot of HR leaders that are kind of trying to guide overall cultures. What do you say to that – I mean that’s a very diverse group of people and it’s very wide but where do you – where is company maybe start if they want to become more empowering for their workforce and they want leaders and managers to be really effective coaches for their direct reports that are coming out from underneath them?
I mean really, if I think about an entrepreneur, they would love risk taking in their business for the most part. And if some of this is being held back because of fear and positioning and some of those types of things, what kind of work would you see being valuable aside from of course listening to this wonderful podcast?
Jennifer Powers: Yeah.
Angela Perkins: What are some other tools that you might give away to those – that set of folks?
Jennifer Powers: So, a couple of things come to mind. And one is to I always say, model the behavior you hope to see in others. So as you know, there’s a tremendous trickle-down effect. There always has been in leadership regardless of what leadership style someone embodies. There is always going to be people watching and acting or reacting accordingly.
So, modeling the behavior and that is being able to recognize your ego when it is present, understand why it is there and maybe how you can honor it and accept it and appreciate it and then maybe shift over to self which perhaps by the way is a little bit more vulnerable. The ego is very protective so it puts up its guns, which can seem sort of hardcore.
But the self can really say, “Hey, I don’t know exactly what’s going on here. I’m just looking for a solution. Let’s dive in.” Like that sort of vulnerable approach.
And then the second thing that comes to mind just sort of as an overall culture-cultivating practice would be acceptance, right? So when I say acceptance, it’s sort of the microcosm. It’s accepting the ego like we talked about just now. But what if you could cultivate a culture of acceptance where when people show up the way they show up with their ideas, with their idiosyncrasies, with their strengths and drawbacks, what if there is just acceptance? Before anything else, if you could just practice nonjudgment and yeah, just acceptance?
Angela Perkins: Yeah.
Jennifer Powers: That’s what’s coming up for me. And so when you model that acceptance, when you can start to accept someone, they can more quickly begin to accept themselves. That’s just basic human conditioning.
When you are criticizing others which by the way comes from ego and acceptance from self, when you’re criticizing or judging, that person is very quick to bring out the ego because they need to protect themselves, right? They’re feeling attacked. They feel criticized. So of course, ego comes out.
So if you want to keep ego at bay among your team or among your group or culture, the best thing you could do is practice acceptance.
Angela Perkins: Right. I love that. Yeah, that makes sense and totally connects to protective versus acknowledgment, all of those things that we talked about today. So that’s really helpful.
How is this – you’re a coach so you work with clients that come to you to either breakthrough something or rise to the next level, all of the different reasons folks go to a professional coach, how has this particular topic shown up for you without names of course across your client base? I mean is this a female thing? Is this a male thing? How does this show up in your – and is it a common conversation amongst everyone that you work with?
Jennifer Powers: No, to that last question. Actually, that’s the first thing that comes to mind around this question is it comes up when there is a sense I guess. I guess that intuit that the person can receive it, right? That if someone can receive this information then I will bring it up, I will offer it as a possibility for discussion but I would not like cram it on their throat.
Angela Perkins: Sure, yeah.
Jennifer Powers: In terms of who, I think yes, I’ve spoken to it with men for sure, men that are more interested in that sort of dynamic of self and self-awareness. But it’s mostly women who suffer from what’s very commonly called impostor syndrome because impostor syndrome is really a manifestation of someone playing small so that no one finds out that they’re really undeserving of the role that they’re in, right? So they continue to play small because impostor syndrome is that sneaking suspicion that one day they’re going to be found out that they don’t qualify to be in the position they’re in. And so, the ego is really at play there because it’s constantly protecting.
Angela Perkins: Protecting, yeah.
Jennifer Powers: It’s fear-based. Yeah.
Angela Perkins: Interesting. And so just by nature, that impostor syndrome you see manifest itself a little bit more in female leaders over male or you just end up in more conversations around it.
Jennifer Powers: I think – I do think men have this but not nearly as much as women. And I would say honestly, 90% of the people I work with, impostor syndrome are women to be honest.
Angela Perkins: Yeah, interesting.
Jennifer Powers: I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. And one day, that will change.
Angela Perkins: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re out there one conversation at a time helping break that down because you can get on the other side of it.
Any success stories you’d be willing to share just in terms of things that come off the top of your head that say, if there’s somebody listening today saying, “Well, I really want to do work around this,” what is getting on the other side look like? And granted, we’re never done with this kind of stuff but what is the acknowledgment kind of feel like once you get to that stage?
Jennifer Powers: What does the acknowledgment feel like?
Angela Perkins: So in other words, and when I – I love success stories. I love – so we once had a – I once had a client that this was their issue. They then went through the work around working through this. And then on the other side, boom! It all – does it come together or does it like – it’s constant work. No doubt about it. It’s always. And the ego is going to pop up forever and ever and ever.
Your book actually talks to this a little bit just in terms of exercising that muscle and then you’ll get a little bit more comfortable recognizing that protection mode coming out. But what are some fun or even just a fun story where you’ve really seen breakthrough?
Jennifer Powers: So one comes to mind and she was a high-level school administrator who was truly, truly under the impression that she did not deserve to be where she was. And that came from things that her mom said to her, her dad said to her. These are deeply rooted beliefs that truly needed to be reprogrammed.
And so, when she discovered the possibility of recognizing the ego and the self, she was astonished. I mean it was like an light bulb that went on for her that from that conversation onward, she could not not see the ego at play.
And so because she was so – she became so hyper aware that it was like – I always say, Angela, it’s like when you keep seeing something, there’s only so long you can see it until you get to a point where you’re like, “I can’t see that anymore.”
Angela Perkins: Right.
Jennifer Powers: I don’t want to see that anymore so I’m going to change it. And I think that was her process. She was so tired of watching her ego make her play small or help her play small that she was just done. But you know what? She couldn’t get there until she understood the dynamic that was at play. So when she understood that the ego was doing its work and really, really playing hard.
I remember one time she said to me, she is a high-level professional, and she was at this bank at once and she was with a peer, same level and then one level above. Let’s say it was a superintendent. I don’t know what it was. And she said, “Jennifer, I found myself clearing the dishes.”
Angela Perkins: Oh wow!
Jennifer Powers: Like clearing the plates or getting them more coffee. And she said, “I just felt like I needed to do that.” And we dive in like what was that about. What is it about that you feel like you need to be a servant? And of course, it was the ego making yourself seemed valuable.
And then she realized, “But that’s not the way I want to be seen as valuable. I want to be seen valuable in the job, in the profession that I’m really good at.”
Angela Perkins: Right.
Jennifer Powers: And so, she thanked her ego instead of getting mad at it. She thanked her ego and said, “Thank you so much.” And she wrote a letter, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate the work that you do to keep me valuable and useful in the eyes of others. I’m looking for you to help me with ways that you can help me be valuable in my career.”
Angela Perkins: Right.
Jennifer Powers: It was just so brilliant because she didn’t say like some other clients who said, “Sit down. I got this.”
Angela Perkins: Right.
Jennifer Powers: She was saying, “Hey, thanks for this but can you help me with this instead?”
Angela Perkins: That’s great. Redirect the work. Yes, that’s a true educator right there.
Jennifer Powers: Yeah, right?
Angela Perkins: That’s great. Well, I really appreciate this conversation. I think the listeners are going to appreciate. Just again, for me, when we originally had this conversation, it was very much about reframing ego against all of the negative connotation that it had just in growing up and phrases that are tossed around culturally.
So, it was really great for me personally and I’ve shared it over and over as I mentioned to you before we started recording. And I just love that we’ve been able to kind of get that, understand, observe, acknowledge the gratitude, the awareness of it out there so that folks – I mean really, people that we work with every day, they want to be better and that’s ultimately what most individuals that come to work want to be better and the people that we coach and mentor and manage want that same thing so as we can bring this out.
I really encourage listeners to check out the book on Amazon, Oh Shift! by Jennifer Powers. Check it out. There’s some great stuff in here. It’s not just about ego. It’s really about changing your life with just shifting how you think about things and look at the world. A really great read.
So Jennifer, thank you so much again for your time and your words. And everybody can check you out. How do they find you?
Angela Perkins: Great. Thank you.