Posted: 12 Nov. 2020 5 min.

Putting our ego aside and playing for the team

Topic: Resilient Leadership

The possibilities for organisations are limitless if we all had the courage to put our personal interests aside and play for the team. An egocentric organisation is essentially a slow and inefficient organisation. In an era where companies are fighting so hard to reconfigure for the digital future, now is really the time to think beyond ourselves and let other people shine.

Last week, one of my colleagues sent me a link to a YouTube video of a dad and his 4 year-old son. The dad is driving a jeep and is pretending to be stuck in the ditch. The son has an electric toy jeep that is tied to the real jeep with a rope. And while the dad sits in his jeep, the son pulls the real car out of the ditch. Of course, the dad helps it on the way, but the son believes that he is really pulling the heavy load. I surely felt the unconstrained happiness of the child.

The story carries a deeper meaning. Far too often, we are surrounded by people who are not committed to letting others shine – people who are not willing to think beyond themselves, to let the smaller jeep go first.

It’s a serious issue. Think about the value that is lost every day because people put themselves over the team, refuse to pass on credit – or care more about what they get out of a certain situation rather than what it could do for someone else.

This is the part of the organisational culture, every person with a leadership position should strive to change.

A new era
As I have come to realise, egocentricity in people is almost always driven by fear: fear of being overlooked, fear of losing a reward, fear of losing respect – or fear of losing the quest for power in the organisational game simply by letting someone else step up on the podium.

Although it’s a human reaction, it is poisonous for an organisation. How can you keep a team committed and motivated if everyone is there for themselves?

Take my word for it: having a team of leaders with a common purpose versus a group of leaders with individual interests makes a huge difference in today’s business world. It permeates the entire organisation all the way from everyday operations to strategic transformation. Selflessness drives the organisation forward – selfishness holds it back.

To counter egocentricity – and to deliver on the strategic agenda – here are three things I believe are essential right now:

  • Firstly, trust. As the business environment becomes more and more uncertain, what we should really do within the organisation is meet each other with more and more trust: trust in each other’s motives and motivations, trust that each of us will be rewarded for our efforts even when we are not first in line – and trust that our careers and leadership impact become much more fulfilling when we stand aside for a moment and let other people shine.
  • Secondly, culture. We should be better at understanding the entire journey of an organisational transformation, not just where it starts and where it ends. This is something that is on my shoulders, too. At Deloitte, we know everything about technology, processes, commercial models, supply chains, core systems and how to create one-of-a-kind customer experiences. However, without a cultural change that runs in parallel with the transformation of the business, our clients often struggle to realise their full potential. That’s a conversation I’m having with many executives these days.
  • Thirdly, selflessness. Allowing people to shine is the very essence of talent development and succession planning. It’s also the core of leadership effectiveness and open problem-solving. If everyone is more concerned with each other’s outcome rather than their own outcome, the entire team emerges much stronger and much more resilient. The ability to make sound decisions reaches unprecedented heights – and the ability to execute strategy goes through the roof.

To sum it all up: Strategy is not the obstacle – ego is!

An egocentric organisation is essentially a slow organisation, an inefficient organisation. Even with the strongest, most skilful leaders you can only go so far if everyone’s playing for themselves. If we just had the courage to change that culture, who knows where we could go?

If you don’t believe me, watch for yourself:

Forfatter spotlight

Martin Søegaard

Martin Søegaard


Martin is the manager of Deloitte's Danish and Nordic consulting business and has more than 25 years of experience in advising Danish and international companies. Martin is at the forefront of developing a consulting practice across the Nordic region that can assist Danish and international companies on their most complex transformation journeys. This includes a focus on management, the establishment of ecosystems as well as on diversity in professionalism and competence.

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