T80pxtreehe Marketing Society awarded the Marketing Leader of the Year 2015 prize to Diageo CEO Syl Saller.

Amongst some heartening descriptions of her success and her leadership style was the quoted ‘self-professed lack of ego and a verging on humble attitude’.

Unusual qualities in a CEO, no?

It’s been a tough couple of years for players in that market place, and this leadership approach seems to have united a global leadership team in a real and effective way.  When things go well, when people excel, when leaders are respected, we want to do they do it? We really want to clone, or to copy them, don’t we?

I’m right near the front of that queue.  But I think that the idea ‘ego – free’ may be misleading.

Freud introduced us to the term, describing a sort of ‘psychological apparatus’ that fluidly manages a tension between the impulse-driven(id), and the socialized (superego), parts of ourselves. The word has come to mean, in general use, a sense of self – who we think we are.

But my pernickety reason for looking more closely at ‘ego’ is this: that the qualities of a healthy ego are pretty close to the qualities we need and want in a great leader.

Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists continue to debate the finer points of ego definitions and qualities, but some really crucial characteristics are common across the board.  The quality of ‘reality testing’ for example: being able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, being able to differentiate between the abstract and the concrete. That’s all bound up with a healthy ego state.

The ability to screen out distractions, to be cognitively efficient is linked to a healthy ego.
And how about tolerating inconsistencies? And respecting others as separate entities? The ego handles all this too.
There’s also the hugely important ability to function without emotional conflict – to function in a consistent and integrated way.

And the business-crucial function of perceiving and predicting the consequences of actions, while being able to act spontaneously when appropriate, is laid right at the ego’s door.

The ‘lose the ego, get humble’ instruction sounds superficially attractive.

But the ‘get over yourself’ implicit in this has more relevance to ..brands (They are always trying to force their way into our lives, aren’t they? Another ‘like’ on facebook.)

But Leadership development?

I’d put a strong and healthy ego right up there; seriously.

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