In many organizations, leaders are expected to motivate people.  To keep associates happy and engaged.  To improve the morale of their team.

Our concept of leadership is flawed, Cy Wakeman writes in her book No Ego.

Leaders can’t motivate people, Cy observes.  People make their own choices about motivation, accountability, commitment, and happiness.

Great leaders don’t solve the problems for their colleagues.

They also don’t tell, direct, or order people around.

Instead, Cy believes the role of the leader is to facilitate thinking and action.


By prompting team members to engage in self-reflection so they can solve their own problems and take on challenges and opportunities with gusto.  

The key to leadership success?

Developing the mindset, the methods, and the tools to help our colleagues bypass their egos and eliminate costly emotional waste.   

Ego is the enemy (thank you, Ryan Holiday!).  It creates false and destructive narratives.  It hides out in ambiguity.  Proof is the last thing our egos want to see.  It is suspicious of new information.  It resists even in the face of compelling evidence.  

The antidote to ego?

Inquiry.  True inquiry leads us back to reality.

Great leaders refuse “to foster the daily theatrics at work.”  Instead, we help people see reality more clearly.  We coach associates in ways that are grounded in reality.  And, in so doing, we transform negative energy into self-reflection which leads to greater self-awareness and positive change.

It begins with asking questions which challenge ourselves and others to self-reflect and open their hearts and minds. 

An open mind allows us to maintain mental flexibility.  Rather than having tunnel vision and getting locked in on a single explanation, we come up with alternate explanations for why someone is acting a certain way.  What would a kinder, less suspicious explanation be?  

We can ask: “How am I contributing to this situation?”  Or: “What could I do to change this relationship dynamic or business outcome?”

An open heart encourages us and others to lead with grace rather than judgment.  When someone acts out, we self-reflect: “Have I ever lost my temper?”  

It takes a lot of energy to hold onto the past and stay injured, Cy points out.  Instead of judging others harshly, we can respond with understanding and compassion.  

We stop blaming and start helping. 


Reflection: What do I think of Cy’s ideas around leadership?  How might I benefit from re-framing my definition of leadership?

Action: Journal about the answers to the two questions above.

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