Early in my corporate career, there were many times where the big boss was away from the office for various work-related activities. In such instances, he would select one of his direct-reports to act on his behalf during these absences.
I was honored that he chose me.
In fact, honor isn’t the right word. I think a sense of pride or self-importance is closer to the truth.
Not only did I feel justified that all my hard work, long hours, and business & engineering skills had paid off, but now I could run the company they way I knew it ought to be.
I had all the power. Everyone in the company was under my direction.
And my ego loved it.
Unfortunately, I was the crappiest boss ever.
The Tyranny of Power
During meetings, I would steamroll other people’s thoughts and opinions. If schedules were slipping, I would make my dissatisfaction and disappointment abundantly clear. If an employee wasn’t performing up to a particular (high) standard, I was quick to point it out and ensure remediation plans were implemented.
My priorities centered around the success of the company – often at the expense of other people’s feelings.
I could blame my approach on youth, naiveté, inefficient leadership training, or a host of other company cultural / environmental factors – but the truth is that the power went to my head. As the “big boss”, my ego gleefully personified both of those words.
I had totally lost sight of what mattered most.
Even though we were a public company generating billions of dollars in revenue, we were still comprised of people who made it all work. People with sensitivities, ambitions, fears, and desires.
Making matters worse was that this style of leadership was not only condoned, but led to even greater financial success.
Inspiration, Not Intimidation
Thankfully two things entered my life that made all the difference. The first were great mentors who very quickly helped me see the errors of my ways. And the other was my discovery of A Course in Miracles that so powerfully articulated the true nature of ego in painfully clear detail.
While my mindset at work may have contributed to short-term “success”, it hindered opportunity for much greater long-term growth of the company, the employees, our customers, and myself.
One of many incredibly insightful lines in the Course says, “What I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.”
By way of example, I can’t experience disappointment and frustration in schedule slips or employee performance unless I first chose a mindset of wanting to be disappointed and frustrated.
Talk about mind blown.
I realized then that if I wanted to experience more peace with others, I had to first look within and better understand me.
Thus began my in-depth study of mind, my ego’s need to hold onto grievances, and how I could be a better leader. One that inspired others, not intimidated them.
I not only learned invaluable lessons on what not to do, but also what it really means to serve on someone else’s behalf.
Repping the Boss
Prior to my study of ego and effective leadership, had I really been acting in the name of the boss during his absences?
In other words, was I serving as a virtual him during these periods, or was I using the position to carry out my agenda?
Clearly the latter.
If I were serving as him, I would have asked myself in each moment, “What would [boss] do?” And then, to the best of my ability, I would have tried to channel his best thoughts and qualities through me.
Had I done that, others would have felt his “presence” amongst us. Had I done that, the company would have grown even faster. Had I done that, people would have felt less threatened and more appreciated.
As I worked on becoming more of a compassionate, empathetic leader, I gained an entirely new perspective on serving as the acting-boss.
Rather than seeing the position as an opportunity to glorify my ego and flex my power, I was able to step out of myself and see things from a much broader perspective. Why is what we’re doing important? For whom? How could we have more of an impact? What kind of legacy do we want to leave?
And a curious thing happens when we step out of ourselves. We gain the opportunity to be who we want to be.
In that moment we are no longer bound by our entrenched ego thoughts of what’s in it for me and the people I care about but rather how can we all succeed.
Who Do You Represent?
WWJD was a phrase that became very popular in the 90s. It stood for “What would Jesus do?” with many adherents wearing wristbands engraved with that acronym. The idea was to remind supporters to act in a loving manner.
When the brilliant, loving Ken Wapnick – preeminent teacher of A Course in Miracles – passed away, many people touched by his wisdom would likewise think WWKD. His right-minded presence of compassion and gentleness inspired millions.
Anytime we can step out of our ego and into the mind of presence, we are able to channel the guidance and love from all symbols of oneness. We no longer think about our individual self, having re-connected to the blissful state of infinite oneness. In the intuitive words of Gloria Wapnick, in such a condition we no longer think, but rather we become thunk.
From our right mind, we don’t worry about our actions. Whatever is most loving and helpful for every situation we’re in will automatically flow through us. The resulting inner-peace is extraordinary.
And so, like the boss appointing a stand-in while away, in every moment we can ask ourselves, “Who am I representing?” If we aren’t filled with joy and abundance that embraces everyone, we can – with gentle firmness – remind ourselves that we’ve chosen the ego. And then with quiet certainty we choose again.
Join me in our upcoming live, online video class where we’ll explore these topics and how we can master the habits of living a more peaceful life. I look forward to seeing you then.