Positive Culture and Ego needs

Do you aim for an open, inclusive, diverse, and positive culture in a flat organization, where all employees take ownership and feel responsible, proud, and motivated?
A workplace that benefits from different perspectives and positive criticism? That’s agile and ready for innovation and change? A culture that embraces learning, and can handle uncertainty?

The four ingredients of a positive culture are Positive Awareness (to amplify what is working well and see possibilities), Connection & Collaboration, Shared Purpose & Meaning, and Learning & Autonomy. Positive cultures stimulate a “creator attitude.” We create our organization together, and every person contributes and is responsible for the whole. We cherish an “inner locus of control”: focusing on what we can do without permission or resources from others. Positive cultures have a lot of energy, openness to ideas and others, relationships based on trust and authenticity, participation, support for others, and an eye for positive potential. They cherish learning and development, collaboration, a meaningful shared purpose, and professional autonomy.

If we are honest, this is easier said than done. Reality looks different than the ideal – and we often blame leaders. It’s their narrow-mindedness and old-fashioned ways, their egos, that hold organizations back in the industrial age while employees disengage, and results deteriorate.
Sometimes leaders are the culprit, but it’s not just the leaders that keep organizations stuck.

Both human nature and nurture keep organizations grounded in the past. Positive leadership to Self and others asks for personal development – both for leaders and employees.

Ego Needs

If you are human (whether you are a leader or an employee) and you’re honest, there are moments that you think and feel:

I want a leader

You’d like someone to solve the issues, who takes care of it, who stands in the frontline so you can be safe in the back. People want to be led in exchange for safety and security, for clarity, for food.

I want to be acknowledged

Your Ego needs to be stroked from time to time, so you don’t want to share your best ideas with the group, or you don’t want to be the one who asks the stupid question or who admits “I don’t know.” You want to be seen and heard and appreciated, especially by someone with a higher rank.

I want inequality

You love the concept of equality, of course. But we rank all the time – even though it happens unconsciously. We compare ourselves to others, we scan the room for competition, and we want to be recognized for our accomplishments. We want to excel – we want to do well – and we want others to know it.

I want clarity

You have to know who’s in charge, how the ranking plays out (either social, informal, material, cognitive, or official position ranking), where the power is, what the different positions are, who’s with or against you. It takes time and energy to find out without a leader and a clear structure and goal. Let’s be clear and keep it fixed. I don’t want change!

I want to belong

You need to belong to a group of like-minded people, preferably unconditionally: without being afraid that they’ll shame or blame you and kick you out of the group. You need to be sure that you belong to thrive.

I want excitement

You know that peace of mind, love, compassion, and tolerance make up a happy (work) life. But you also need massive sensation, excitement, gossip, gloating, conflicts, and issues to talk about. The even mind is too calm and boring.

I want power, money, and status

Of course, we want to serve a higher purpose and contribute to the greater good. But let me have my fair share of power, money, and status. Give me more, and we’ll see what I can do for the world. But first, my money.

I want love and passion

As professionals, we value different perspectives and styles – and we handle them well, even benefit from them. But I like some better than others, and I fancy a few – I have my favorites. I’ll share more with the ones like me, the ones I like, and trust. I’ll work harder for whoever makes me feel good.

Does that mean that positive leadership and positive cultures are just a lofty ideal? Of course not. It means that you have work to do in personal development. We all do. No leader, no employee, hardly anyone is so enlightened that none of the above applies to him or her. I cannot judge the Dalai Lama or Thich Nath Han from where I stand – but most of us are trying to become our best selves. Every single day. This goes for leaders and employees.

Let’s acknowledge these tendencies from human nature, that are often exacerbated by nurture. Our upbringing, our school system, and professional education have fed these wants and needs. We have learned to obey, to excel, to compare, to know the answers, to love praise, to fear exclusion or contempt, to fit in, to judge, to look good, to aim for power, sensations, and money.


Sometimes it’s enough to see some of the above human needs to become self-aware and reflective. Next time, you’ll notice yourself favoring one colleague over the other, or you’ll catch yourself talking about how you achieved your goals, or telling the others what to do to look smart, or hiding behind your team leader instead of fighting your battle.


When you start catching yourself, explore the belief and need behind your action or lack of action. Try on a different belief, and experiment with the opposite (positive!) action.
It’s okay. Your Ego got in the way of your best Self – the one that contributes to a positive culture.

If you want to challenge a limiting (Ego) belief, look for the exception. If you think you’re stupid, if you admit that you don’t know, look for people that ask many questions and look smart. Asking intelligent questions is an excellent way to deal with the VUCA world that we work in today: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Reframe asking questions as smart, for instance.

  • Which is the Ego issue that you’ll be more aware of next week?
  • Which one would you like to change? Go for it!

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.

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