On Ego, Fear, Power and … Leadership

Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Whether you are an Agile Coach, an Agile transformation facilitator or a Scrum Master, did it happen to you to feel frustrated because the change you wanted to see in your workplace was nat the change that was taking place? Did it happen to you to have that feeling of  frustration because the values and principles you promoted had not the desired echo? Did you ever felt the pressure to “succeed a transformation following a plan”, while people had other operational priorities? If you are a manager, did you feel excited by a more collaborative way of working, then felt lost because your hierarchy hase the same “old ways” type of expectations form you? The intentions of an “Agile Transformation Program” are probably true and generous.  Unfortunately it has high chances to turn into  an  “Transformation without leadership” pattern, because the reality on the field is driven by collective unconscious behaviours that sees any change as a threat. I  believe that true resilient transformation happens when we acknowledge and accept our natural emotion to threat: fear

Fear in the Modern (Western) World

The good news is that fear is a very healthy emotion. It is designed to keep us alive. So before going further through this quick blog post, stop and have a grateful thought for your own fears. They are ment to keep you alive. 

The other good news is that nature takes time to adapt. Nature designs for resilience not for performance. Well… not for financial performance for sure. And because nature takes time to adapt, our brain did not really emotionally adapt to our times of fast changes an multiple sollicitations. 

There is little probability to get attacked by a hungry tiger in our office, but our brain respond to our bosses critic on our performance in the last meeting just as if we were attacked by a tiger. We become frightened.  

This is the tricky point of the fear story. Fear is a priority emotion for our brain so it will take immediate action. What “immediate” means? It means it has no time to get it to the rational, aware part of the brain. What “action” means? It means our brave speed-decision unconscious part of us launches the “survival program”. The result? We have certains behaviours without knowing exactly why. 

The Modern Source of Fear : The Ego 

Fear is not something we are willing to face, therefore we give “good reasons” for our behaviours, including those we have in situations that we are uncomfortable with. . As Brené Brown would say , we show up armoured. 

Among others, fear triggers in judgmental behaviours. It may also trigger shame. We don’t like to look bad.  Hey wait, actually who does not want to look bad? The Ego. Our ego is our trickiest friend. It turns often into a liability. And as it’s smart enough, it won’t show up as  liability but with smart avoiding scenarios like :

“I won’t talk about it, it’s not very interesting what I have to say” ( smart, ego found a way to avoid exposure and confrontation).

Let’s go back to the situation of the critic boss , we are very likely to say something like “the boss was not even clear about the purpose of my role in that meeting”. Ego has found a way to blame someone else and avoid or , even more likely, hide self-delusion. 

Nowadays, when tigers don’t jump in our offices, the most current reason of our fears is our ego. Of course I’m not referring extreme situations. 

Ego wants us to “look good”. And everything that threatens our “good-looking” self  calls our ego to play the “survival scenarios”.

We armoured our Ego to avoid hurt and burry fear. Now it became our regular source of fear. 

The Change : between Ego and “Power Over” 

So change means stepping out of our comfort zone to uncertainty, which is a dangerous place. 

Alright,  and who is really at threat in a change process of our business or society? My answer to that is our Ego.It’s our Ego who does not want to step out from the comfort zone, because challenge puts us at risk of not looking good.

The deep blocker  of the most wonderfully intentioned workplace transformation program, is Ego.

 Ego is the source of our fear and it is ego who launches the “survival scenarios” to keep the status quo. 

There are many ways fear triggered by our ego manifests its survival behaviours and one of them is judgment;  we’d rather like to put the spot on some other people defaults dealing with our own fears and lack of comfort. 

I was always very uncomfortable by power games in organisation dynamics, and, maybe because of that I became interested by what is the motivator of power games.

I’m using here the term power with the meeting of “power over” , as stated by Brené Brown in her book “Dare To Lead”.

Why people are striving for power over? One easy answer is having power means “looking good” so Ego will be pleased. Even if that’s true, I think there is even a deeper reason. Having power over is an effective way to armour ourselves. And we armour ourselves because we ( or better, our Ego) are scared to show up as we are. Not because we are not worthy enough, not good enough, not wise enough, but because our Ego also whispers in our ears that “hey, you might not be worthy enough, good enough, wise enough…and you don’t want that to be known, don’t you”. So we are scared. So we armour. One of the armouring acts is to take the power and exerce it over other people.

Here is what Ego might tell you : “f I have the power, I have control, the world is less uncertain  for me, and it will prevent me from looking good. “

So power games are also a survival scenario of fears triggered by ego.

I believe most “powerful over”- like people in the world are those that are the most afraid of themselves.

From Ego and Fear to a Journey Towards Leadership 

People who are afraid cannot have a leader posture. Therefore I believe people who demonstrate a “power over” attitude are no leaders. And they can become leaders. Just like anyone else, if they accept to work on their fears. Leadership does not mean to be fearless, leaders can be freaked out by uncertainty, the lack of control, the pressure of other people around them who pushes them into their power games. Leaders are at the service of the power of the group together, the power with. 

And maybe the most important power of the leader is the “power within”: the power to show up as they are are with all their doubts, Brené, who I quote the third time, calls the power within, the   “Power of Vulnerability”.  

We cannot embrace change if we want to control reality. And we cannot let go of controlling the reality if we don’t admit that it’s hard to do so. 

We cannot embrace change if we have high expectations. And we cannot  be empathic without don’t express our own needs and dreams.

We cannot really embrace change without courage. And the first act of courage is to face and admit our fears. This is the first step on the Leadership journey.


I’m enrolled in the Shakti Leadership Program for Women a program offered in collaboration with the University of San-Diego.  Nilima Bhat , who built the program refers also the “power with” vs “power over “as a healing posture for our broken (business) world built on competition rather than collaboration. The impact of fear in organisations dynamics is my project. If you think you can help me with, if this work is interesting for you, just show up.


About ojuncu

Après une expérience de plus de 15 ans le développement logiciel et le management des équipes IT (de l’architecture applicative chez General Electric à la tête de la direction informatique d’Eurosport) , Oana a arrêté son choix sur les démarches Agile, qu’elle pense être l’approche la plus adaptée pour les organisation du 21ème siècle, focalisées sur la réalisation produits de qualité, pertinents pour leur clients des produits et disponibles au plus vite, en s’appuyant sur des équipes épanouies. Oana intervient à la fois comme catalyseur de Transformation Agile, en aidant les organisation ( du coeur de métier au développement et services support ) à adopter Agile, et comme coach et/ou formateur Agile et Lean Coach sur le terrain des équipes projet. Son credo est l’évolution durable via le soutien de la collaboration et le bénéfice de l’intelligence collective : un résultant remarquable ne peut être créé qu’avec des contributeurs volontaires .Dans le même esprit du soutien de la “connaissance connectée, créatrice de valeur”, et partage des connaissances, Oana participe activement dans la communauté Agile française et internationale; Elle est intervenue comme orateur dans plusieurs conférences comme XP2012, Agile Tour, ALE, et comme organisateur actif des évènements Agile au niveau européen
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