Recently, while emailing with the representative of a large corporation, something felt off. She was okay on video, but the only time she responded to emails was when I copied her bosses.

My alarm system went on. I’ve been there before, in situations with individuals in unhealthy cultures and unproductive environments.

How about you?

Maybe you, too, have had to deal with a peer who acted as if they were under continual scrutiny—or maybe you’ve been the one feeling scrutinized! Perhaps you’ve felt inferior in a relationship with a customer, or when leading a team for which cooperation always seemed to freeze.

Each of these situations is somewhat intangible and hard to address. When they arise, do you ever find yourself ignoring the issue, focusing instead on work activities that give you tangible results?

If so, you’re not alone.

The thing is, though, that these types of cultures and relationships usually don’t go away on their own. Unaddressed, they can consume a lot of unnecessary energy and brain space, if not cause you emotional distress. So, while you may get temporary relief by refocusing, the issues usually come back.

Just think of how much time you spend being cautious around that person or around that relationship. You double-check your communications. You make sure you have proof of your statements, your commitments, your… Meanwhile, productivity drops.

What should you do?

First, let’s be clear that ego and fear are the cause of such symptoms. They’re also two sides of the same coin. As the Authenticity Academy eloquently summarizes:

The Ego point of view is “I am superior.”

 Ego doesn’t choose to see who you are but instead inflates you to a level of being more important or better than others.

The Fear point of view is “I am inferior.”

 Fear blocks you from seeing who you are, replacing that with a point of view focused on being less than others. For example, seeing yourself as not being enough – not attractive, lovable, or smart enough.

The Simultaneous Ego/Fear Paradox

 […] you can have both Ego and Fear at the same time. You can view yourself as superior to one person when you feel inferior to another person. You can even feel superior to a person while, at the same time, feeling inferior to that same person.

Healthy, productive relationships aren’t born from either Fear or Ego. Research shows that fear triggers the primal part of our brain designed to help us respond to danger. And our brain doesn’t distinguish between real and perceived threats. Because of this, when we’re under stress, our cognitive functions start shutting down. We respond to false triggers; we follow our primal brain instinctively to protect ourselves. In such a state, we can’t think of our larger goals. We forget about others.

What should you, as a leader, do if you find yourself in an unhealthy culture or relationship?

We all want to be accepted, respected, and safe. That’s when we’re most productive. Here are three things you can do to help yourself and others melt the ego-fear barrier.

  1. Practice mindfulness to learn to distinguish between real and perceived threats.

Learn to calm the brain. Our brains are creative and powerful, yet they need us to remind them that the threats they perceive are products of their imagination. Mindfulness will help you notice your internal judgment. And then how to disregard it.

Use these questions to help yourself or to converse with your team members:

  • What are the facts?
  • What can you observe with your senses?
  • What are the interpretations?
  • What are alternative interpretations of the same facts?


  1. Be generous.

Research shows that generosity and kindness calm down that “fight or flight” response. We feel calmer and our stress levels drop when we’re being kind and showing or experiencing generosity.

Start with yourself. If you can be kind and generous with yourself, you can be kind and generous with others.


  1. Nurture authenticity – permit vulnerability.

Being authentic means risking being seen physically, intellectually and emotionally.  Simon Sinek says authenticity is when: 

“The things you say and the things you do you actually believe.”


It means showing your own “Achilles heel”. Such action requires a good deal of work with your fears again, whether fears of damaging your self-image or fears of rejection.

However, by exposing ourselves, we implicitly give others permission to drop their layers of self-protection, too. Most people are desperately hungry to be allowed to be real.

When we make room for that kind of human connection, we create trust that enables people to move beyond their fears and worries. They can focus on bigger goals and on others, too.

When you lead with those three elements, people will see beyond their worries and needs. It won’t be the same “me vs. them” environment. It will be a “me WITH or FOR them” environment instead. 

This is a path to lasting cultural transformation, which brings happiness and sustainable productivity.

Where are you on the path to authentic leadership?

Here’s a quick exercise for you to see where you are on the path to authentic leadership. Evaluate yourself on the three elements, using a scale of 1-5, with 5 representing the best result.

Element Your Score (1-5)
1.     I pause to distinguish between real and perceived threats and help others to do so daily.
2.     I am generous in thoughts, words and actions independent of circumstances.
3.     I am comfortable with being vulnerable and authentic infront of others – it is part of my leadership style.

 Now ask yourself:

– Where do you score lowest and highest?

– Where did you score 3 and below?

– What does that mean to you?

– What would you like to change or adjust?

– What will it look like once you succeeded?

– What small step will you implement tomorrow?

Please share your action! Sharing your commitment with others helps with motivation.

Anyone can contribute to creating a productive environment and a sustainable culture. How about you? Decide and take the leap now.




Share this post on:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.