The egoless leader

How to get your team to move 

When challenged with physical distance our minds open up to ideas that will assist to get our team members to perform and deliver. The virtual office became an overnight hit, this concept is now the norm, if you are still contemplating it, you have just labelled yourself as a dinosaur of the past. 

Shift control 

Now that we are faced with remote leadership and management, you may be expected to answer to your teams when it comes to what has to happen and how. The answer to why usually remains obscured and will be followed by how. When the why is answered satisfactorily, buy-in from teams can be expected because control shifts from manager or leader to the team member: External Locus of Control (ELC) shifts to Internal Locus of Control (ILC). People buy-in when they become part of the why. 

What and How 

We tend to default to what and how reasons and explanations because these questions immediately result in quantifiable results and leave the illusion of progress. Let me add in the same breath that the short-term goal may have been achieved but will not be sustainable and will require regular and frequent follow-up, this may be perceived as micromanagement that results in an External Locus of Control (ELC). 

Do not be a victim 

It is one thing to micromanage a team member in person, but another thing when you are dependent on remote leadership: 

Something as simple as a team-defining internal initiative or something as grand as pulling out of the economic crisis we’re in right now. Let’s say you are confident that if your audience executes your plan, your company will pull out unscathed. You know how to do it. You pour all those insights into a passionate presentation. You get a smattering of applause and then…nothing happens.” (Duarte, 2020). The non-responsiveness of your team may result in a serious blow to one’s ego, and you consequently frame yourself as a victim. This is true test of our CEOs and business leaders in general. These victims become addicted to the pain caused by their inability to recognise, revisit and share the higher purpose of their organisation…the why.

You should however turn your disability into an opportunity and allow yourself to be human and vulnerable – acknowledge your dependency on the support of you team (move to ILC). This is easier said than done, because it requires you to acknowledge your vulnerability. Together with your team, revisit the reason the company exists (raison d’être). 


The organisation you lead exists because somebody was willing to “bet the farm”, it may be you or your predecessor, it’s initial existence had to aspire to some form of greatness. Your organisation’s higher purpose (raison d’être) answers the illusive, why . Who benefits from its existence, your products and services? Do you aspire to a credible and just cause? Do you and your colleagues respect your company’s calling and the value you add to quality of life and sustaining the environment? 


Answering why, asks of the leader to be egoless. In times like these your employees and customers need your authentic self. The core assets of our organisations are found in the intelligence, values, skills and experience of our employees. The success of the City State of Athens that existed 2 500 years ago depended on a system that was not imposed on the Athenian people, it was holistic, characterised by participatory structures and guided by a higher purpose. 

Discussion outcomes

Around the fire… The egoless leader

Tuesday 30 June 2020

Takeaway ideas

What is ego?

  • The fear of losing faith others have in you
  • The I-maker (ahamkãra in Hinduism)
  • Responding only to ideas of your own affection
  • Ego has the potential to make a devil of a god
  • Ego is the opposite of mindful
  • Ego is not necessarily self-confidence
  • Ego may stand between God and humans
  • Ego and all its fixations may be in conflict with authenticity
  • Leaders need to have a presence – this is often confused with an ego.
  • Ego is not necessarily bad. A healthy ego may engage when there is a realisation that “I” is part of the “we”.

When does ego engage?

  • A deep knowledge is required of “who am I?” and “who is my ego?”
  • Can one be egoless? No, everyone has an ego.
  • How is ego applied? There is a difference between the ego of a person and the ego of that person in a leadership position.
  • Ego and survival are closely linked in humans. Survival should depend on sustainable leadership and ego may be in the way.
  • There are different arenas for ego to play in – leadership, competitive aggression, sales tactics. Ego may be shaped and manipulated for the purpose.
  • Ego is often used to build systems that protect the leader and feed the ego. 
  • Cultural entropy is often a driven by ego and movement is prevented.
  • Ego is often used as a fortification to hide incompetence.
  • The politics of leadership breeds ego that will suppress authenticity. 
  • Accept that it is acceptable to be vulnerable as a leader.
  • Egoless is not spineless. Servant leadership is proof of that.

How do you get others to move?

  • Leaders have two personalities, the egoful Dad that tells followers what to do and the egoless Mum that finds meaning, engages, get out of the way to allow people to build their own mastery.
  • Leadership is about ethos, logos and pathos. This is evident from a variety of respected leaders in the world.
  • When discussing leadership, the field has broadened to the physical, virtual and hybrid arenas. The dynamics of leadership and how egos are rolled out will change in the three circumstances.
  • “The scarcest commodity on the business world is leaders without an ego” (Bob Davis)
  • Egoless leadership is about buying trust to earn authority.
  • Egoless leaders play to the needs of people.
  • It is necessary to be sure how people are connected – to their leader or to the ego of the leader?
  • Others are moved by the ability, benevolence and integrity of leaders. How is ego involved in these three traits?
  • People are taken along when consistency of leadership, maturity, and self-knowledge are aligned.
  • The matching of leader-follower egos is often a catalyst for movement.
  • The fear-trust relationship between a leader and follower provides the wrong energy for movement, since the follower’s driving force is to stay out of trouble.
  • A constant measure not to misuse ego is to continue asking: “How do I present myself?”
  • A leader has to build himself or herself in order to build the team.
  • Leaders should keep on asking: “Who am I; why am I?”.
  • Consistency is important for leaders, be balanced in how the group and individual are treated. People trust leaders for something specific.
  • Spontaneity and selflessness shape more acceptable egos.
  • Trust is earned, integrity is keeping your word.
  • Healthy egos are flexible.
  • The leader is the message, and the message should be consistent.
  • Challenge people with empathy.
  • Take nothing personally and do not take yourself too seriously.
  • Leaders must be able to manage paradox and act with integrity over the integrated whole.
  • Leaders must show intentionality and be able to implement through others, reinvention and innovation are necessary on a constant basis.
  • Act with conviction, follow through with integrity, be courageous.

Dr Chris Heunis 

Dr. Chris Heunis holds a D.Phil. from the University of Pretoria. He specialises in Organisational Development and has been consulting locally and internationally for the past 25 years. He co-founded TBi as a niche company that specialises in interpersonal and intrapersonal behavioural dynamics. Chris is appointed as External Examiner and Study Leader to the Graduate School of Technology Management at the University of Pretoria. He appeared on several radio and TV-programmes including Carte Blanche, Business Beat, Maatband, Take 5 and recently on Prontuit. He believes that the success of business leadership starts with being mindful of the needs of others. 

Telephone +27 12 807 0242 | Mobile +27 83 263 5800 | email | Web

%d bloggers like this: