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Capability: Part 4 – Ego Position

Ego Position

  • Opportunist

  • Diplomat

  • Expert

  • Achiever

  • Individualist

  • Strategist

  • Alchemist

  • Ironist

In this next component of CAPABILITY, I will refer to it as Ego Position rather than Ego Complexity, but I believe the position emerges from the “complexity” of the ego as described by various modelers. The model which we will use as a central guideline will be the Loevinger/Cook-Greuter Model of Ego Complexity/Development.

What is the Ego?

Definition: Ego - Image: historicair - Wikimedia commons

“According to Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of  the id, the superego and reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego).

While the ego operates in both the preconscious and conscious, its strong ties to the id means that it also operates in the unconscious. The ego operates based on the reality principle, which works to satisfy the id’s desires in a manner that is realistic and socially appropriate.

For example, if a person cuts you off in traffic, the ego prevents you from chasing down the car and physically attacking the offending driver. The ego allows us to see that this response would be socially unacceptable, but it also allows us to know that there are other more appropriate means of venting our frustration.” – psychology.about.com/od/eindex/g/def_ego.htm

What is Ego Complexity?

Jane Loevinger’s stages of ego development ‘conceptualize a theory of ego development that was based on Erikson’s psychosocial model’, as well as on the works of Harry Stack Sullivan, and in which ‘the ego was theorized to mature and evolve through stages across the lifespan as a result of a dynamic interaction between the inner self and the outer environment’

Her theory is significant in contributing to the delineation of ego development, which goes beyond fragmentation of trait psychology and looks at personalities as meaningful wholes.

What is Ego Autonomy?

A common misunderstanding is in place these days about the nature of Ego and the importance of its development. It is commonly misidentified with the concept of egocentrism: the selfish or “bigheaded” personality, which is actually a trait of a person with a weak and undeveloped Ego.

In fact this misunderstanding is the result of mis-translation. The definition of Ego in the west was set by Freud. If you read Freud in the original German, he calls the Ego the Ich (the German word for ‘I’). In Latin, the word Ego means ‘I’. Without an “I” you cannot be anything in the real world we live in. – Gregory Mitchell

Boiling Down Ego Position

Obviously, anything related to ego work encompasses a lot more than most leaders “bargain for.” However, there are some very simple suggestions that provides “fog-clearing” around ego position. First off, I like to use the term “ego position” rather than other terms because as a meta-model, position makes the assumption there are many, that is one helpful distillation.

If there are many ego positions, then what is mine?

Remember, we are looking for things that work without a lot of attention because the attention we have as a leader is so much in demand that we need things going on behind the scenes to scaffold our attention, as well as our intention. One thing I have tried to do is to offer you tools that have enough substance because metrics are available.

Ego Position offers us the ability to surface measurements of our ego (development) position as well as work in and on the position over time. The assessment that I believe works well for leaders is the Sentence Completion Test, first developed by Loevinger and then later evolved through the research of Susanne Cook-Greuter.

Ego position is important for leaders

Why it’s important is that the entire notion of who we are is wrapped up in the concept of CAPABILITY, both what capability is now, what it has been and where capability is working with us to be, do, have, become, and contribute, as leaders… to help people have lives.

Position is plural…

Because there are a number of positions that leaders find themselves in related to conditional requirements, we don’t always live, work or play from the same position, but develop a “working” center of gravity. This is also important to understand. Like all the components in CAPABILITY DYNAMICS, ego position has a range where our concept of “I” is developing.

Ego Development Descriptions from The Sentence Completion Test

For the sake of brevity, here are some brief descriptions, © Paul Landraitis
Avoid Pain and Danger, (Impulses rule reflexes) Seek Pleasure, Release
: Own Needs, Self-(Needs rule impulses) Interest, Self-Protection
Socially Desirable (Norms rule needs) Behavior, Belonging
Craft Logic, Consistency & (Craft logic rules Efficiency, Rationality norms)
Results, Goals & Plans (System effectiveness Objective Reality rules craft logic)
Own Ability to have Impact, (Radical relativism Multiple Perspectives rules single system view)
Development Over Time, (Most valuable Systems Thinking principles rule relativism)
Transforming Self & Others (Deep processes Interplay of awareness, rule principles) action, thought, and effect
(Inter-systemic development rules process) And another from a graphic in an article in the Harvard Business Review:

Parting Thoughts:

Being able to objectify ego position is an important part of CAPABILITY DYNAMICS, and being able to “language” this objectivity both internally as self-talk as well as externally in dialogue with others may be the gift that keeps on giving regarding Ego Position. Join me in our discussion of languaging in the next installment of CAPABILITY DYNAMICS.

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    Mike R. Jay is a developmentalist utilizing consulting, coaching, mentoring and advising as methods to offer developmental scaffolding for aspiring leaders who are interested in being, doing, having, becoming, and contributing… to helping people have lives.

    Mike R. Jay
    Leadership University

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