Lead Beyond the Ego

transpersonal leadership

When Leading Beyond the Ego crossed my desk, I couldn’t wait to see the author’s take on the subject. The lead author, John Knights, is the Chairman of LeaderShape Global and the book is the result of twenty years of research and experience supporting leaders in their personal and professional development. It builds on the importance of emotional intelligence as a foundation to demonstrate how the best leaders in the 21stcentury will lead beyond their ego and bring their values and purpose to full consciousness.

I recently spoke with John about his leadership researching and findings.


Become a Transpersonal Leader

For those who haven’t read your new book, tell us what is “Transpersonal Leadership”?

Transpersonal Leadership is an ongoing journey that embraces life-long development to become increasingly emotionally and spiritually intelligent. The transpersonal leader is robust and radical yet caring, authentic and ethical, seeking sustainable and continued performance enhancement for the organization they are involved in leading. Further a transpersonal leader can be at any level in an organization. And finally, they operate beyond their ego by bringing their values and decision-making processes to full-consciousness.



Manage Your Brain

What is the value of neuroscience and how does it relate to leadership?

As we are seeing in the 21st century, neuroscience research helps us to understand how our brain works and how we can learn to rewire our own brains to behave differently. This is particularly important for leaders as, every time we allow our emotions to hijack us or to cause our true values to be ignored, we make mistakes which are amplified because these can impact many other people. We are born with brains that are fundamentally the same as in the stone-age, designed to focus on survival. Our brains are then rewired through our lives depending on our circumstances and experiences, basically serendipitously. As leaders we can learn to rewire our brains, not to change our personality but to manage it more effectively. We can become more aware, learn to manage our emotions more effectively, become more fully-conscious of our values, and learn to improve our judgement and decision-making – all by understanding how our brain works and proactively working on our behaviors through practice.

Copyright LeaderShapeGlobal. Used by Permission.



Increase Your Self-Awareness

We’ve all met those with organizational power who are obviously painfully not aware of their behavior. How does a leader best increase self-awareness?

Although many are actually unaware, there are others who seem to be unaware of their behavior but are intelligent enough to know something is awry without knowing precisely what.

Our experience is that an appropriate emotional intelligence based 360o feedback tool is often the first real awakening for such leaders that they have blind spots. Unfortunately, such leaders, especially in the second category, are often not willing to undergo such tests, primarily out of fear of what might be discovered – although they can be encouraged through assuring them of the confidentiality and anonymity of the test and the findings.

The fact that there is always a solution we can help them discover to overcome the blind spots once identified almost always means the experience becomes a very positive one and the leader is then much more open to further increase their awareness and change of behavior. In addition, a good executive coach can support and challenge the leader to increase their self-awareness through personal reflection.


Foster a Performance-Enhancing Culture

What is a “performance-enhancing culture” and how do leaders foster it?

This kind of culture is one where everyone is involved in improvement, sometimes radical, sometimes emergent. In principle, the leader fosters the intrinsic motivation of the individuals in the organization rather than depending on incentives for improved performance. Across the world, our research shows leaders and followers alike want less power and structure in their cultures but a greater emphasis on achievement and support. This requires a greater focus on visionary, democratic, coaching and affiliative styles of leadership rather commanding and pace-setting.


Leadership Checklist

  • Well communicated delegation of duties to the lowest level of competence
  • Empowerment of individuals to make decisions in their area of capability
  • Provide individual (coaching style) and group (affiliative) support
  • Provide the opportunity for everyone to maximize their potential
  • Share as much information as possible (as opposed to on a “need to know basis” as the default).
  • Do-what-you-say-you-will-do-when-you-say-you-will-do-it. And if you absolutely can’t, let people know in good time.
  • As far as feasible, involve everyone who will be involved in implementing a decision in the decision-making process
  • Avoid a blame culture. Criticize constructively and privately; praise publically.
  • Communicate expectations of individual responsibilities which should include everyone including the leaders:
    • Taking personal responsibility
    • Accepting accountability
    • Being self-disciplined (including doing some mundane things regularly that we may not enjoy!)
    • Pro-activity – showing initiative (this must be supported by the leaders)



Manage Your Ego

How does one best manage ego?

In this context, “ego” can perhaps be best explained by thinking about someone being “egotistical.” They are only considering outcomes for their own benefit. Often this is an unconscious process – and all very human. The four main drivers of ego are Power, Prestige, Recognition and Reward. So first of all, we must learn to understand the effect of each of these drivers on our own ego. What is their order of potency on us?

Copyright LeaderShapeGlobal. Used by Permission

The first step to managing our ego is to be aware of the existence of these drivers and to understand the impact they are having on our role and responsibility as a leader within an organization. We are paid by the organization to make the best decisions we can for the organization and its stakeholders. We must raise to full consciousness an understanding of who is going to be the beneficiary a decision. Am I making it for my benefit or for the benefit of the organization? Of course looking out for your own career or wellbeing is not immoral, but you should be fully aware and conscious about the implications for the organization. This is the first step in managing our ego. The second is to make sure any decision meets our own touchstone of values and ethical behavior.




Talk about the inner development required for a Transpersonal Leader.

First of all, Transpersonal Leaders need to be mindful about becoming more aware, especially of their emotions and in full consciousness of their values. They also need a mindset that is open and emergent, so while they are comfortable with who they are, they acknowledge they are always a “work-in-progress.” Their intrinsic motivation shifts from being about self-achievement to collaborating with others to make a difference in the world. And finally, improve their “meaning-making” by identifying a real purpose that provides a strong “why” to what they are doing as well as the “what” and “how.” Mindfulness and reflection are two important self-interventions to both be “in the moment” and to learn from one’s actions and outcomes.

This will result in improved self-awareness, greater creativity, deeper sense of purpose, more insights, wiser decisions, more effective relationships, and more time and energy.



What do you notice first when you see a developed, Transpersonal Leader in action? What would you observe about his or her character and actions?

First it is important to say that Transpersonal Leaders can be as different from each other as any other group of people in terms of personality. Their similarity will be in their focus on behaving in a way that is both beneficial for others and values based.

What you will perhaps first notice is that they are interested in you, in genuinely understanding you as a person, not your status or position but who you are. They will also be open and transparent about themselves and will tend to be more trusting of others, gaining a feeling of trust from you. You will notice that they are fair and patient and always looking for a win-win solution, but within the passion about their purpose. You will notice that they are more interested in what they can achieve for the common good, not for themselves and beyond even their own organization. They will be willing to share any wisdom they have gained.



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