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Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

Posted February 23, 2009 8:40 AM by DrDoug

EGO is a human characteristic. We all have it in some form or other. Trying to eliminate it is a waste of time, energy, and resources because it is a normal and natural part of you. In fact, EGO is a psychological / emotional element of self-awareness (which, by the way, is what primarily differentiates people from their pets). If you don't believe me, stick your dog or cat in front of a mirror and see what happens.

If used correctly, EGO is what motivates a person to step it up to reach the next level. If uncontrolled, EGO is what causes a person to become complacent or stubborn and (in extreme cases) self-destruct. To say that someone "does not have an EGO" is a misleading statement. Of course they do! They're human, just like you.

To say that a scientist, engineer, or other technical professional would be better off not having an EGO is self-limiting. A more accurate explanation would be that a person should develop the self-discipline to keep the EGO in check – hiding it when necessary and unleashing it when warranted.

The Boxer as Teacher

A good example of this is Mike Tyson. He had all the talent in the world and was well on his way to being remembered as one of the greatest fighters of all time. But it wasn't just his talent that made things happen. It was also his EGO – his inner fire. There may have been some other fighters who were tougher, quicker, smarter, more experienced, and even stronger than Mike Tyson, but no one wanted to achieve excellence more than he did. If you get a chance, take a look at some of his early fight tapes and you'll see what I mean.

In his prime (pre-Buster Douglas), he would walk into that ring and KNOW there was only one result – Mike Tyson standing and the other guying lying down. In that respect, he had the ability to harness his EGO and unleash it for those brief periods of time between the ropes. The end result was that he used his EGO to achieve excellence.

The Dark Side of the Fire Within

Now here's the other side of the coin. Nearly 20 years later, Tyson is still the same "Iron Mike" with the same EGO. But he has lost his ability to control it. Look at the evidence - arrests, a broken marriage, prison terms, street fights, ear biting, car accidents, filing for bankruptcy after blowing through an estimated $ 300 million in income, and finally going into retirement after giving up in the middle of his June 11, 2005 fight with Kevin McBride.

Over the years, Mike Tyson's EGO caused him to become sloppy and unmotivated. In essence, his inner fire was extinguished as he lost sight of the bigger picture by thinking that he was larger than life itself. As a result, instead of being remembered as one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, he is remembered as one of the greatest wastes of talent of all time.

The Core and the Cement Wall

Even today, Tyson is still the same "Iron Mike" with the same core EGO. But instead of strengthening his motivation and fueling his inner fire like when he was a young fighter, his core EGO became his cement wall – obscuring his vision, clouding his judgment and sending him into oblivion.

I know we've all heard stories of people in the engineering world who have achieved excellence only to later under-perform their potential or even experience incredible failure. Understand that at the root of this drastic shift from greatness to mediocrity or failure is their EGO - whether by becoming sloppy and unmotivated, or simply not folding their hand when they knew they should.

Regardless, I use Mike Tyson as an example of how one person can use their EGO to create two totally opposite realities. The key here is that you get to CHOOSE which path to go down – so choose wisely.

All in all, the message this week is a simple one: Your EGO can be your most powerful asset or your most severe liability. Remember, it is your job to keep it in check and know when it is time to express it, or when to restrain it so that you are continually moving towards achieving excellence.

Dr. Doug

Editor's Note: You can visit Dr. Doug online at www.DrDoug.com or by email: DrDoug@DrDoug.com. His next CR4 blog entry will run on Monday, 03/09/09.

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#1

Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 8:20 AM

Great post.

However, you wrote, "In fact, EGO is a psychological / emotional element of self-awareness (which, by the way, is what primarily differentiates people from their pets). If you don't believe me, stick your dog or cat in front of a mirror and see what happens."

We often hear about the mirror test for animals, but I think that has more to do with vanity, not ego. Watch my dog when she returns with our Frisbee and a mouth full of dirt. That's 0 on the Vanity Scale.

However, my German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is on the other side of the ego scale. She believes it is all about her. Observe her while being trained. She absolutely strives for excellence and improvement. She loves to please her masters and is very, very self aware. GSDs are very self assured. They believe that no human can defeat them in conflict when properly trained, not unlike Mike Tyson. GSDs (and dogs in general) have many of the same emotional and psychological qualities that humans do; albeit in different amounts and levels.

My point is we tend to try to segregate ourselves from animals with claims of uniqueness in the cognitive arena (vanity). However, as we push our limits of understanding forward we find those lines of demarcation becoming more and more blurred. I don't think ego is simply a human characteristic. It's too valuable a survival tool to be solely gifted to humans.

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#2
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 9:40 AM

Thank you for your response to my post about Ego.

While I think your line of discussion is interesting to further explore…you will hopefully excuse me if I don't jump in with my thoughts as I feel it takes this thread off topic a bit…or at least it would take us off topic from what the essence of my initial post which was human ego and its impact on moving from good to great.

Thanks again,

Doug

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#12
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 8:23 PM

I agree with Anonymous Hero "ego" should be replaced by "Drive"

For the rest all good advice.

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#3

Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 1:58 PM

Another example could be Mickey Rourke as was brought up over and over again leading up to the Oscars. Though he found redemption. Also Alec Baldwin had a similiar career but found redemption sooner (through comedy, I'm a big fan of the show 30 Rock).

You make some good points Dr Doug, thanks.

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#4
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 2:24 PM

Thank you Roger...and those are excellent examples.

In fact, I think a greater challenge is for us to possible idenitfy some examples who have not allowed their Ego to define their existance. Donal Trump? no chance. Tiger Woods? maybe. A-rod..Nope. Bill Gates?

Doug

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#8
In reply to #4

Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 3:51 PM

Well, I'm a big fan of Warren Buffett. I think he's a great example of having an ego but at the same time knowing when to keep it in check. I think his mea culpas in his annual investor meetings illustrate that.

As a Yankee fan, I always felt like Don Mattingly was that kind of guy. I've followed the guy for 20 years and I've never heard him complain about anything, and he's had some hard luck. I think you see that reflected in the love he gets in New York.

Tiger Woods is a great example. I think ego allows you to set boundaries, if it is used correctly. I think Tiger Woods illustrates this well. The press have a very clear idea what's open to discussion and what isn't. He's very private about his family, and his performance on the golf course. He doesn't dodge people if he had a bad round and I think people respect that. At the same time he'll tell someone he's not answering a question if he feels it crosses a line (like his family as a topic) and I think people respect that too. The first is an example of restraining ego and the second I think is an example of releasing ego.

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#11
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 5:05 PM

I agree with everything you said...except the part about being a yankee fan. Although Don is one of the classiest parts of their organization so I will give you that.

Personally, I am more of a Gary Carter/NY Mets guy.

but now we are definitely going way off topic. My bad. sorry about that.

Doug

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#16
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 10:28 AM

"Personally, I am more of a Gary Carter/NY Mets guy."

That's too bad, it's been tough to be a Met fan lately. I'm a Giants fan so I'm understand what it feels like to have Philly rip your heart out. God I hate Philly.

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#5

Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 2:50 PM

Hello DrDoug,

I think you will find engineers a bit of an odd duck with egos. Oh we have them but reality has a tendency to bite us if we get to out of line and overreach our abilities. Then after we emotionally cool down, from a failure, there is an analytical failure analysis that take place. If we are true to ourself as engineers we correct then continue.

I have an exception to the every one has an ego. Someone who has been emotionally beat down for the most of their life will become full of anxiety if their ego rears its head. The suppression of their ego eventually kills it. The opposite of letting it run amok, the making of an egomaniac.

Of course this is my observations that make my beliefs/opinions instead of forming convictions. I try to let new data expand my knowledge into wisdom. Thus I (We) pick your brain.

Brad

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#6
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 3:17 PM

Let's be careful about making sweeping generalizations such as concluding that a person who has been beaten down their whole life will become anxious if their ego rears its head.

I would offer that people tend to be insecure, jealous and vengeful (when wronged) to begin with. And it seems that when we look at great achievers throughout history, their motivation or drive was a setback or being told they couldn't do something that pushed them to allow their ego to express itself and transform from good to great. i.e. The earth was thought to be flat and someone managed to prove that belief wrong.

Of course, this does not apply to all people, but there are a lot of them that we all have heard about throughout history.

I am sure you all know a story or two about an engineer who was told that building something was "impossible." And yet, that person went on to make it happen. Henry Ford's engineers creating the 6 cylinder and then 8 cylinder engine come to mind – but you all know this better than me.

Come to think of it, and correct me if my assumption is wrong – wouldn't Ego be the essence of those who create things from imagination into reality.

Even though we hear the doubters, Ego is what allows us to ignore them.

Ego is what tells us we can, when everyone else says we can't

Ego is what causes us to create visions grandeur and develop god complexes.

Ego is what allowed the US consumer and economy to grow to tremendous levels of success (and now it is what is causing it to fall apart at the seams) – the wake up call back to reality is what is so painful for us all to digest.

Ego is what creates greatness and too much of it is what destroys it as well.

Ego is a good thing. A very good thing. At least until it reaches a tipping point and becomes a bad thing, a very bad thing.

But, given the choice of having an ego and taking the volatility that comes with it vs. not having an ego and just going through the motions – well, I choose the former as it makes life worth living. It makes energy, excitement, success and failure.

But the great thing is that if we are able to control our Ego (turn it on when it helps, put it in a box when it does not), then we realize we all get another chance to learn from our mistakes and try it again.

Doug

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#7
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 3:40 PM

And the meat of the matter is the active turning on and off of the ego. At least until it becomes a functional and understood habit.

Most people run on an emotional level only reacting not planing to act. The active use of ego is a planned activity not an emotional knee jerk reaction. The tipping(enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell's books) point is to get people to actively move through life in a positive manor not react to life in an emotional response to others planning or lack there of.

Any expounding on the dynamics of actively using the ego in a positive manner?

This is counter to the conformity that is taught in public schools.

I find the use of ego as a motivational tool an interesting concept I had not considered.

Thank you for the perspective.

Brad

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#10
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 4:36 PM

Not to belabor the point, but an example of using the ego in a positive manner would be having it serve as a motivational catalyst. Not just your ego getting triggered and motivating you to perform but instead, having someone else's Ego motivate you. Confused? Well let me explain with an example from my personal history.

In 1994, I graduated form college in upstate NY and moved to Chicago where I started a career as a trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange then later at the Chicago Board of Trade.

After a few years and the relapse of a herniated disc in my lower back (L5 S1/2), I left the world of finance to purse a career in Sport Psychology and become a baseball coach.

In my eager (and desperate) search to learn about the field of Sport Psychology, I came across the name of a highly respected consultant in the field. He was the past president of the sport psychology association and he happened to live in Chicago. I researched his office address, went there, knocked on the door and introduced myself. Told him I was looking to learn anything I could about the field and would be honored to be an intern for him or just have the opportunity to learn from him whenever possible.

His response was remarkable. He told me I could not afford his time and that based on my GPA from college, it was clear, I was not smart enough to go into the field anyway so I should think about another career to pursue.

Shocked, hurt, angered, and disappointed, I smiled, thanked him for his time and I left.

It took me 15 minutes to walk back to my apartment. By the time I reached my room, I had decided that I would make a monumental impact on the field of sport psychology. I had no idea how; but I knew I would do it or fail trying.

His Ego-focused behavior towards me, became my motivation to go from good to great.

That was over 15 years ago. I have not seen him since that day. It took me years to get over being mad, hurt, insulted by his callousness. This was a guy I did not even know and it inspired me to throw caution and fear aside and push myself to achieve greatness…imagine the impact it may have had if it was a parent or friend who said this to me.

Sad to admit that his tremendous Ego and need to shove it in my face was what jump started my passion. I am proud to say, that once I got over the emotions of being mad and hurt, I was able to focus on my own reasons for achieving greatness as a peak performance coach.

I don't for one second think I am unique in having this type of story in my history. In fact, I am willing to bet I am anything BUT unique in that respect. I bet many of you have a peer or teacher or parent who did a similar thing to you somewhere along the way.

Interestingly, some people have this experience and crawl into a shell…thinking maybe that person is right. Maybe I am too stupid. While others, take the alternate perspective and say, "Screw that. Who are they to think that of me. I will show them how wrong they really are."

I can't tell you why I went the way of the latter rather than the former; but I can tell you it was a conscious choice I made and it clearly put me on the path I am today.

His Ego became my motivation.

I am not angry, or hurt or mad at him. Quit the contrary. I am grateful and thankful to him for being the person he was because it inspired me to become the peak performance coach I am today.

True story – and no, I am not going to divulge his name. His name is irrelevant but the gift he unknowingly gave me is priceless.

Doug

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#13
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 10:29 PM

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

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#14
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 10:45 PM

Ego feeding can become a trait similar to those of the addict. A high that the ego creates. Ego maniacal is too strong a word. My experience indicates that most of these types are more subdued on the surface than that term suggests.

I agree with you DR. Doug that ultimately the ego can destroy. Look at all the examples of men whom have falsified experiences, data and such simply for personal recognition.

It seems at times their only motivation was "fifteen minutes of fame". The resulting damage at exposure injured not only them but scores of others as well as industries, and entire belief systems. (forgive me for not citing specifics - brevity prevails)

Conversely, those whom suppress the vainglory of personal recognition seem to continue working quietly on their passion; unaffected.

The life that I live today is guided by fundamental principles. Principles in which I must pay great attention to my ego - exactly for the reasons you stated. I have found that living between the peaks and valleys to be a great reward since embarking on this path of awareness over two years ago.

My personal experience agrees fully with what I feel to be very accurate and perceptive points you have made.

I applaud you for bringing this theme into the professional arena.

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#18
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 1:15 PM

thank you.

I appreciate the feedback.

doug

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#15
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 10:48 PM

The empowerment of adversity. Sounds like the guy is a cad. I'm a firm believer in surrounding yourself with those who are better than yourself in the directions you wish to excel in. While he was a leader in his field obviously out of his field he needs(needed) work. To bad he was and maybe still is socially inept. You are right things done by accident deserve no credit. ( your actions not your words)

My question was more self centered but the concept of other egos empowering us makes sense. My curiosity was aimed at any tricks to better use my own ego. To loose it on a leash.

Brad

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#17
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 1:07 PM

Hi, DrDoug!

You wrote, "Ego is a good thing. A very good thing. At least until it reaches a tipping point and becomes a bad thing, a very bad thing."

This brings up the question, how does one notice the shift and either prevent it or repair damage that it may have caused if not caught soon enough?

For example, as engineering egoists, we may 'push' our ideas in order to get them 'through' a perceived fog inhibiting the understanding of a listener with opposing or different ideas, also supported by ego. Ego demands that the point be made, if only to facilitate discussion with understanding on both sides.

What's the tipping point, and how can the conversation be handled to prevent it? Does one employ conversational softeners of some sort that can make for greater efficacy in these kinds of workplace conversations?

Mark

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#19
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 1:22 PM

If the goal is to reach high levels of productivity and accomplishment - then what is wrong with having too much ego involved. In fact, it may enhance the level of success, while making the person less ejoyable to work with/for or interact with.

If the goal is to also have meaningful and rewarding interactions with others, then I think the limits of the ego tiping point are determined by the others involved.

A poor choice would be to try to put yourself in someone elses shoes and draw conclusions on how you should or should not behave based on that information.

I think a more effective and productive process would be to observe the behaviors and communcation of others as you navigate and interact with them (the system). Listen and look for the subtleties in the feedback. Then adjust your ego accordingly.

But, again, be mindful of what your goal is before you choose a path. The goal determines the approach.

Doug

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#20
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 3:15 PM

So goal limited/orientated ego: not in bounds or out of bounds, ego actions.

Or plan your objective and actively loose or restrain one's ego to maximize the attainment of said objective. Thus in planning the objective one must include ego as a dynamic.

So in picking the objective one must discern the ethical dilemma as a original constraint then ego is used as a tool to achieve said objective.

I was wanting a little less vague indicator of positive and or negative ego dynamics. It is far to easy to go all Nietzschen on the world (post Salomé pre breakdown). I have watched others travel that road and found their actions are negative in the long term.

But I guess that gets back to the great ethical dilemma controversy of right and wrong and the judgement of.

Brad

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#22
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 4:03 PM

I think I am familiar with where your line of interest is going. Let me explain my POV. I have been criticized many times for not paying attention to the necessity of balance in one's life. While I am not discounting the importance of balance; i simply dont think it is my place to determine what the right "balance" is for anybody else. We all make choices and sacrifices and there are consequences we must deal with as a result. Those are not my laws but rather the laws of existence, time and natural order. To some those sacrifices are worth it. To others they are not. And remarkably there are those of us that would say the sacrifices are not worth it, yet we are still compelled to push ourselves and make them (because of Ego, maybe?).

So, while I think I hear where you are going with your questions, I will tell you that I do firmly believe "to each his own." I am a guide, not a mandate. My job is to help people explore themselves and their opportunities so they can go from good to great (if they choose). If they choose not to. Then that is really ok as well. Their life, Their choice.

If one person believes balance is having lots of money, working 15 hour days, having 3 kids and 3 nanny's while another believes money is not a measure of success in life; then they both are right and who am I to pass judgment. I know what works for me and my life.

I really do try to keep myself in check and be in service to others. It has taken years of work and gaining self-awareness to see where my Ego likes to start and where it should stop. I view it as a tool. And like any tool, to get the greatest value from it, you need to know how and when to use it.

By the way, weeks ago, someone on the list (my apologies, I don't remember who) said that I would get more out of this experience than you all would. I said I thought that was probably true. Now, I can tell you. It definitely is true. Thank you, Brad, for engaging in the conversation and forcing me to think this through.

Doug

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#24
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/25/2009 11:29 AM

You are welcome DrDoug,

If you do come up with a ruler/scale to track/gauge one's ego by, I'd be interested. The problem I see is that it will have possibly several dynamics to track like X,Y,Z.

And thank you for perspectives not realized.

Brad

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#21
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 3:20 PM

So then we are forced to recognize the interaction of the Id, with the Ego. < We identify ourselves in a number of ways. We buy and sell ourselves according to either achieved expertise and titles, or those we may have inherited.< The fully realized and dimensional person, will be a Child Parent and Adult. A Coach for a Team may well recognize that for the Team to win a game, they must field in the contest a set of personalities that have a balance together, greater than one individual could possibly achieve. Every Team actually needs a mix of followers, and leaders. Actually there is real love involved. What I mean by that is that you are just as important as a follower, as you are as a leader as far as what a team is. <I myself believe that personality, is inherited, and character is built. I tend to think along those lines as opposed to Freudian Psychology.> My particular experiences working have been in Aviation and Motion Pictures and Television. When I am the Third Electric, I think like the Third Electric. When I am the Gaffer, or Director of Photography, I think like the Gaffer, or Director of Photography.< If I know my job, then my ego is always secondary to my job. This is part of how I know when to turn on, or turn off my ego.

I am interested in whether or not this is an agreed on and practical way of determining how to turn on, or off. I feel it is at least workable and a practical framework for thinking about how to function. P.S. One thing I liked about Film Set Etiquette was that if you were the second, or Third in a subordinate Department, it was proper to make a suggestion to your Head of Department, who may, or may not pass it on. I also liked it that I really never actually had to fire anybody, but could just not hire them again.

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#23
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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/24/2009 4:14 PM

For what it's worth, I view Ego as an ingredient in who we are. no matter what we are doing. i believe the commercialized description of Ego is about having an attitude or larger than life persona. we call that Ego; but i think that is the description the masses can sink their teeth into. I think there is more to it. It is deeper and a permanent fabric in our constitution. Rather than something we turn on or off, I think of it as something more along the lines of blood running through our body, always there, always flowing. Sometimes it pumps faster and slower and that is what we get to choose to control. But hey, what do I know. I did not invent this stuff, it is just my POV.

doug

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Re: Using Your EGO to Achieve Excellence

02/23/2009 4:34 PM

I agree that it is important to know when to turn off, and turn on your ego. > I myself have suffered a good number of setbacks, and sometimes have to do some work to simply maintain my ego.< For this I am a strong believer in having a hobby, for not all of us get to do for the money we need to live, the things we love, or are even best at. >Certainly great leaders know how to turn on the egos of others, since people who feel good about themselves, and valuable to their organization, will perform better than those who are shut down.

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