Do you ever get caught up in your own perceptions so much that it stops you from moving forward?
Have you ever worked incredibly hard on a project, when 3/4 of the way through it, you realize you’ve been seeing the problem wrong and there’s a better solution than the one you’ve been working towards, yet you didn’t want to take the loss and start over?
What about the time you made a mistake but instead of owning up to it and moving forward, you pushed it under the rug or directed the attention elsewhere?
We stumble on decisions like these when our focus is intensely on ourselves: “How will I look?” “What will people think?” “I’ll never recover.”At the same time, we lose perspective on reality–we let the ego take over and stop us from doing amazing things.
Max De Pree wrote that great leaders are able to “define reality.” But removing ego from our own lives can prove challenging. It takes never-ending practice and the full-on embracing of vulnerability….and lots of mistakes and the willingness to make them.
Ron Johnson, Apple’s former Senior VP of Retail Operations, in an interview for the Stanford Business School, recounted an experience with Steve Jobs that exemplifies what it means to truly remove ego to do what is remarkable.
One day, before Apple opened its first store in May 2001, Johnson was riding with Steve Jobs to a weekly planning meeting about the store Johnson was charged with designing. Johnson told his boss, “Steve, I’ve been thinking. I think the store’s organized all wrong. We’ve organized it like a retail store around products, but if Apple’s going to organize around activities like music and movies, well, the store should be organized around music, and movies, and things you do,’” Johnson recalls. “And he looked at me and he said, ‘Do you know how big a change that is? I don’t have time to redesign the store.’ Then 10 minutes later, Jobs walked into the meeting and said, “Well, Ron thinks our store is all wrong. And he’s right, so I’m going to leave now. And Ron, you work with the team and design the store.”
Most people haven’t had to pull an emergency stop on something as extreme as the launch of the first Apple Store, but it’s an great example of what it means to remove the ego in order to do truly great things. Jobs was able to admit he was wrong, recognize that even though he was set to launch, there was a better way and it would, in the long run, benefit the company to delay the store opening and start all over.
There is tremendous power in the ability to see what’s going on around us, to accept reality and to make changes–to remove ego from the way we work, live and lead.