Your ego and the transition to leadership

Your ego and the transition to leadership

My series of talks with Paul, co-founder of Maniphesto, continues on the topic of your ego and the transition to leadership.

We talk about fear responses, rewriting your ego story, the frustrations when leaders report to managers, how to get started on the journey from manager to leader, and more.

Maniphesto is the European umbrella organisation for men’s work and we’ve just launched mentoring to support men, check it out here.


FREDRIK When you have started the journey but person you’re reporting you have not a person that is starting their journey towards leadership and starting to figure out you know the different responses to when the ego is threatened starting to let go of being the person that knows don’t be able to step up and enable other people to create and then they’re reporting to somebody we’re still stuck in this person that knows.

PAUL Good morning Fredrik!

FREDRIK Good morning!

PAUL So great to have you on for another chat we’ve been discussing so far vulnerability and then everyday courage and actually the connection between those two and our last two chats and this time we’re going to talk about transitions to new roles and what that means and yeah you in our little kind of pre-talk you said something like transitioning to a new work role means redefining your ego,

Can you explain what do you mean by that?

FREDRIK  Yeah not necessarily work role but transitioning. What I have in mind specifically the transition between manager and leader because in the work I do with leadership development one of the most common conversations I have and one of the most I would say difficult development aspects is the transition from manager to leader.

I’m not talking about title now, I’m talking about the type of work that you do and I see managers on all kinds of levels with the most fancy titles and I see very few leaders. and what I mean with the transition is that if you look at how you have a career in a company you typically start somewhere on the ground so to speak.

You’re a individual contributor, you become specialist in something whether that’s sales or accounting or whatever it could be and then you’re typically rewarded because of your expertise so the best accountant becomes team lead for the accounting team, the best sales guy team for the sales team, etc and you are always rewarded for being the person that knows.

That takes you places in a hierarchy so you build an ego-story around: okay if I just can get better at this, I can know more, I can be of more value and then I will have a more satisfying career as well because they’re going to reach higher.

That’s fine to a certain level, and I say typically say that as a manager your role is to optimise resources, you typically have to do that within a very specific frame, in the next two to three years this is what a company need to achieve this is your what you need to contribute with and the manager goes into his department or whatever it is he’s trying to optimise the resources, increase productivity, save cost, whatever it could be right and then the challenge comes when the manager is promoted to leader because suddenly as a leader your job is not to be the person that knows, as a leader your job is to be the person that enables other people to create whatever they are creating.

To do that, to enable other people to create you need to build engagement and that engagement comes through conversation, you can only relate to others to the extent that you can relate to yourself so that leadership journey really starts within.

If you come from a from a history in your corporate career where you’ve always been rewarded for the person that knows then this transition starts a bit of a conflict within your ego-story.

Suddenly you have to let go of the ego-story build up around being the person that knows, have to let go of that, let other people know but my role is now to enable them, to let them know, and also find a way of channeling their energy to the benefit of the company.

PAUL  Yeah, so sometimes even having all the answers and giving them will actually take away from or the other employees and kind of make them feel well he’s got all the answers so I don’t even need to step up or something like that right but that you’re not then building capacity that’s the word that’s been on my mind recently like building capacity in other people because at the end of the day you know if you’re responsible for other people and doing everything yourself takes away from their contribution.

FREDRIK I think that’s sort of a disastrous mistake from a leader but I think before we continue we also have to be clear that they are not mutually exclusive, it’s not that you’re either or, it is that you need to be aware of what your role is as a leader and sometimes as a leader you need to fully step into your role as a manager and optimise resources but if you haven’t transitioned in your ego-story to the leader it’s very difficult to jump between the roles right

PAUL Yeah Yeah!

Well I’ve heard this metaphor which I thought was quite useful it’s like if you imagine a plane that crashes in the middle of the jungle and everybody survives but they’re like in the middle of nowhere but they happen to have a whole lot of machetes on in their in their cargo so they need to like cut their way through the jungle basically so then you have the guys who are you know doing the the cutting of the bush so they’re working the way through and the managers they’re like kind of organizing shifts to plan who should be doing when and making sure that the knives are optimally sharp and exchanging people or whatever right but then the leader he’s the guy who once a day or every second day whatever he climbs up to the closest you know tall tree and make sure okay are we actually heading in the right direction and make sure okay are we actually on task for our you know even though we’re optimizing our resources are we doing it in the right manner or direction that we want to get to.

FREDRIK I think there’s a beautiful analogy and I think it also speaks to another thing that that I often talk about with leaders which is you know as a leader there’s two things you need to consistently communicate one is vision the other thing is value so going back to your analogies where are we going having an opinion about the future  having an opinion about where your team fits into that future and then telling a story that makes it interesting to join you towards that future so people get excited yes I want to be part of this journey to the future that’s one thing and the second thing is the values and values translates into behaviors so what are the behaviors that are going  to get us to that future.

PAUL Yeah so we spoke a little bit about this on our courage and vulnerability things about like even developing the ability to feel into our like what is it I really believe in and what do I think and I can certainly say you know in my career in Microsoft then I was very good at being the experts and having all the answers and understanding and working hard and producing but when it came to taking that next step and you know I was maybe 27-28 years old then I could see there were some guys who just they spoke from their heart from a passion that they you know this was older more mature guys who had been around for a long time and they had a direction of knowing you know that they knew what the future was going to look like and they were headed that way  and I could kind of you know be the guy who executed on that but I really I came to a stop there and it was really hard to take that next step in inside that role I had to go out and do a whole lot of other stuff first to find out like,

Who am I?

FREDRIK So totally relate, I mean it’s the same thing for me. Just after turning 30 I was running a team of 65 people in one of the biggest IT companies and my typical peer that I need to interact with was probably 10-15 years older than me and I had been promoted from expertise and then coming to a position where I had to step in as a leader and it was really challenging because there was really a process of redefining myself.

PAUL Yeah!

FREDRIK I think the journey you need to go through can be a little bit like Campbell’s hero’s journey you know where you have to…

PAUL Joseph Campbell.

FREDRIK Yeah exactly, you need to go through the hero’s journey where you need to get down into the abyss where there’s ego death and then finding a way of integrating your new way of being into the real world and come up above the surface again.

Some people are pulled towards that journey and they realize they need to step up and change other people are not, or at least very late in life.

I’ve worked with VP-level in very big organisations that are still very stuck in the expertise role as that’s what they’ve been awarded for and I also worked with some entrepreneurs that are in the late 20s and have already done that journey and realised that you know it’s different way of being if I want to scale my company.

PAUL So can we dive a little bit more into that hero’s journey like what is that?

You know how does one start a hero’s journey if one notices if there’s someone there who’s noticed that they haven’t really started that like you know what should one do how do I get in touch with this part of myself and in a way you know sometimes the years really starts with kind of like you know a terrible drama or a big incident or even a death or something like that right but can one engineer one’s own hero’s journey.

FREDRIK I’m not sure if you can engineer it but I think one can be open to it. I mean if you look at his narrative you typically refuse to invite a couple of times

Right?  That’s what he says you see the signs, there’s signs in your life that you should probably start your hero’s journey meaning go deeper into yourself and figure out why am I really here what I want to do with my life and what is a genuine authentic way for me interact with the world.

There will be invitations to start that self-reflection but you typically resist it because it’s uncomfortable and maybe you double down on the external pleasures in life instead. Like we discussed last time you know, numb the pain or that nagging feeling that something not quite right, numb it with alcohol or gambling or whatever it could be but there comes a point where you can’t resist it anymore you cannot decline the invite into the abyss.

That is when you go below the line, quite often some type of mentor emerges or some type of person who can guide you maybe that’s been through the journey before or somebody who can point you and steer you because the person is close to you.

I think the the the challenging aspect of it is that you must take some kind of time out and just sit with yourself sit with a mess you know if you keep pushing to solve then there’s a high risk that you will not really actually do the full journey you’ll you know bounce back up again have a new idea of how to solve things on the surface level but just building capacity to sit with your mess up

PAUL I think like being with as a young enthusiastic individual who’s had a lot of success you’re used to like oh I know which way to go I can do things. I can figure this all out and so actually spending time there I don’t know what the hell does happening I feel confused and not just jumping on the first solution that offers itself but allowing time in that not know.

FREDRIK An the expression I like: learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

See what bubbles up and I think very often as well our automatic response to things being uncomfortable is to seek to protect ourselves, seek to protect the ego-story we built up over the years when it’s challenged and I think we touched upon it in one of the earlier talks as well that there are three typical responses to protect ourselves.

Either it is through control so you double down on controlling, being the person that’s telling the people around you that they’re challenging you or you know I just can’t do it this way make it perfect drive towards perfection very ambitious you just drive down drive right because you have a narrative that if I just outwork everybody else then I’ll be safe.

Or you have the complying response which is that as long as everybody likes me then I’m safe so you comply with what the environment is saying you forsake what you truly want because you have this narrative but I have to please, have to satisfy, I have to comply.

And then you have the one in the other one which is the the protection where also the after where you basically are the person that that tries to outsmart as long as I know more than everybody else that I’m safe so that person is typically quite you know standoffish and then they just you jump in there and deliver yeah but it’s like this

PAUL okay I thought about it fourth one that I think I’ve seen sometimes as well is the escape strategy as well right it’s like things aren’t working here then I’ll just like close everything down leave and find new people that I could do something with or something like that as well right so

FREDRIK that’s true but that’s kind of an external reaction you still sit with one of these three inside but then your expression that is okay I’ll just jump here

PAUL So the first one is really becoming the tyrannical kind of dominant person the other one is the mr nice guy that just fits in and that’s what everybody else wants and probably yeah also disconnecting more and more from who I am and then the third one is to try and be the smarty smart guy.

FREDRIK Yes, taking a distance, disengaging a little bit, observing from a distance and then sort of just jumping in delivering those sort of one-liners that can really kill.

But we have to remember there’s gifts in it as well, the very driving and sort of controlling can obviously make things happen and there’s a gift in that you know they just drive through no matter what.

And the same way they complying, they’re very good at tuning into other people’s emotions and what’s really going on here and maybe they’re conservative and loyal so you can rely on them things goes tough.

The same with the one that is a bit laid back but jumping in to deliver the most bright thoughts, they’re typically very analytical and critical they can spot when things may go wrong or maybe things that need to be added to the mix to save things etcetera you know it’s a lot of gifts. The problem is when they take over.

PAUL Yeah yeah yeah, so all of these things in moderation are valuable and good but at some point we can start if things if these strategies start not working so well anymore then is that maybe the call to adventure form the hero’s journey that that’s saying like okay now it’s time to to dive in again or something like that

FREDRIK Yeah Yeah!

PAUL Maybe could you give us some examples of things you’ve seen where people you’ve worked with maybe have been experiencing like oh now it’s Time for me to dive in or maybe you know for people listening could be things like is this something for me or is this you know just a whole lot of fluffy woo-woo stuff or whatever like what are the typical signs that one could say could be indications that it’s time to take a journey like this

FREDRIK Yeah take a journey like this it’s about when is the time to accept the invitation. I think it’s a better way of putting it because it’s and I think the most problematic way I experience this when I talk to people is that when you are when you have started the journey but the per person you’re important you have not  person that is starting their journey towards leadership and starting to figure out you know the different responses to when the ego is threatened starting to let go of being the person that knows don’t be able to step-up and enable other people to create and then they’re reporting to somebody.

We’re still stuck in this person that knows that’s the most common conflict I see and I think when it comes to if you recognize yourself in that situation it’s about being very open-minded and asking questions is it possible that this can be viewed in a different way have we thought about it from this perspective et cetera to open up the possibility that other people that know and also encourage the person to spend more time on the strategy on the vision of the values and I think if you yourself are interested in starting this journey is really to start being honest with yourself and start to think about what other where is it that I bump into my limitations is it you know what type of people what type of topics what type of meetings is where I feel that you know I’m on the edge of my of my capacity now where you maybe typically will just push on then if that’s your fear response.

Or you just say yes yes yes, compliance if your response you know where do you touch that fear response at the edge of your capacity and what is going on inside you when you experience that and then you do this you know subject object move you know you lift it up that’s an interesting thing that I responded like this and things like that you know and you start poking it why is that what triggers me about this situation what is the story inside my head that is triggering this response to comply or to control whatever it is right and I think that that’s where the journey starts and then obviously that can be or that is a very long journey and it’s beneficial to have some kind of support on the way.

PAUL Yeah absolutely!

I think for me in my case it was also just noticing falling motivation levels like not feeling the kind o drive and ambition or whatever like just a lack of meaning or a purpose in everything that I was doing and kind of like yeah just there was other things that were more interesting and so trying to push through that and noticing like well you know I’m sitting down.

I have these emails I know what to answer but I really just it takes a lot of energy just to get answered these emails and I want to go rock climbing in Thailand instead actually and that was as an indication well maybe there’s some something else you know that that so so you know.

I certainly believe you know life should be and work should be interesting and inspiring and you know it should awaken one’s passions and if it’s not doing that then it’s an indication well you know you know some people just accept well you know work is supposed to be tough and you know it’s not it’s always hard and stuff like that but I i don’t believe that at all I believe we can really find work in an everyday level that that we wake up and we really want to engage with and not feeling that is is an invitation well maybe it’s just me that needs to connect deeper to myself through my work as well.

FREDRIK Yeah that’s very good and I think, you know, speaking to leaders who’ve made this transition to leadership management they’re typically preoccupied with impact rather than the managers who compared with metric you know so how can I see because the leader has been through a couple of management roles, done the transition they’ve have been there, they’ve seen it you know but then as a leader they ask: What’s my impact, how can I positively impact the people I work with, the society I live in, the communities my company touch et cetera, and that’s a very different conversation. You need to think bigger, higher, wider and about how can you engage people on the journey to achieve that.

PAUL Yeah and it’s a very difficult thing to figure out as well because actually understanding the impact you know there’s a lot of media narratives out there about like this is the good and this is what we need to do or stuff like that but like working one’s own way through that and finding well okay find what all the media are saying and you know whatever but what what’s on my heart to contribute to the world that’s a whole different thing and I love it that you use the hero’s journey because it is a hero’s journey and a hero is someone who really you know steps out into the unknown to fight the dragon or something like that and that’s often what it takes right and that there’s no one who can guide you on that journey right

FREDRIK No, some people can give you pointers you know their experience doing this and I think what I think I like what you said about exploring the unknown.

Somebody said that you know leadership and being an artist is very similar in that both push the boundaries for people so it was possible you know trying to expand that is what a leader does.

PAUL And there is an expression of the hearts in many ways as well the artist and the leader they’re.

FREDRIK Yeah illustrate what’s possible and move people you’re just like artists. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a bunch of leaders that have truly made that transition concerned with impact and so on and what they all have in common is that they have this serenity and curiosity.

There’s no need to impress, there’s no need to boost how important and big they are and I’m thinking one guy in particular in one of the biggest IT companies in the world running the CEE region, so pretty high-up guy and just being in the room with him is a very different energy because he speaks to you as an equal, he’s very curious about your story what you’ve done how you can contribute and then being creative and okay so how can we make this happen.

I met more leaders like that you know that’s really made that transition and they think big and then of course when times requires they can fully step into being a manager and say okay this is the metric these are the resources just go and make it happen but that’s not their default mode, that’s the fallback when it’s needed in tough times.

PAUL Well you know as you know I’ve just become last week father for the second time again and you know this cliché that we always hear you know it’s not about the work your work but it’s about the relationships but I think that’s something I’ve already seen more and more and I’m still continuing to learn about how my work is is not so much about achieving the goals that we said like it’s great to have goals we need to have goals and we also need to work towards those goals but the far more important thing to focus on I found is the relationships that I’m building with other human beings as I’m as I’m working towards those goals and it’s a very holistic thing are the enablers right

FREDRIK Being a leader is not about what you know, it’s about who you know and how can you connect the people that you know to have a bigger impact.

PAUL Yeah yeah yeah…

Kind of connecting people, through ideas and through the stickiness of human interaction, or the messiness of it.

Sometimes and finding shared meaning through there.

FREDRIK And I mean we have plenty of examples out there where we see leaders who have managed to tap into what all of humanity have in common, or most of us have anyway, there’s always a slice of shared meaning in us and the leaders who can find that in the individuals around him or her can be really powerful and mobilise something, hopefully great.

PAUL So maybe let’s just finish off.

Fredrik, if someone’s been listening to this and maybe feeling a little bit like oh!!

Perhaps it’s it’s time for me to be just putting out a little feeler or something like that to is this something that I need to be stepping more into for going from a management to a leadership role can I feel that there’s a need for me to step up a little bit what would you say would be the next uh steps what could one do to start exploring that uh that pathway.

FREDRIK Have a conversation with me.

PAUL Right?


And I think we touched upon it before it’s about taking a step back and exploring what’s happening you know sitting with your mess learn to be uncomfortable sorry not to be comfortable with what’s uncomfortable and see what is going on inside you when I touch the boundaries of my capacity or my comfort zone you know what are my fear responses why are they triggered it’s not to be curious take that feeling or experience out observe it poke at it and say okay interesting that I was triggered by this I wonder what’s going on here let me just sit with it.

I think that’s the first step and preferably in some kind of routine whether that’s meditation or journaling or um if it’s you know turning off your mobile while you walk the dog so you can just focus on yourself and experience of being in nature with your dog whatever it is right

PAUL Sounds like a good topic for a further talk in the future about personal practice and kind of how one’s working consciously or intentionally with forming your own being through practice.


FREDRIK Yeah absolutely that’s good.

PAUL Yeah! thank you very much good talk and we’ll continue probably in a week or two again good.

FREDRIK Good luck again with your newborn

PAUL Thank you


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