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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bowie

Keys to the Boardroom: You Are Not What You Do

Have you ever been stung by a challenge from someone with a different point of view? Do you see someone who disagrees with you as a personal repudiation? Do you take failures personally? And do you celebrate successes as personal victories? These are signs of an ego that is derived from work.

I've been a general manager now for 24 years of one business or another. But kidding aside, the situation was when I first came to <company>, I came in as just a technologist. I had a Ph.D. in physics, I'd been an inventor, a researcher, and that was my career. I came in and I was a member of a team there trying to get things done. I think I have a collaborative style and I used to wander around and talk to everybody and ask them for their ideas.

I guess the biggest advantage I may have had was that my ego wasn't wrapped up in my work. I could separate in my mind who I was as a human being and the work that I did. The ability to keep those two things separate in your mind is really important. If I walked around and asked questions and told them what I was considering, sometimes my colleagues would say, "You know I really don't think you're doing that right. I really think you should approach the technology this way." It wasn't a personal criticism. So I would say, "You know I’ve got to think about that."

I never took it personally, so it turned out to be a real valuable characteristic, and I think most people who worked with me as colleagues would say that I was a pretty good guy to work with. I was always ready to help and volunteered when necessary and so forth. On the other hand, I think I was fairly bright and successful in what I did so I never hesitated to speak out.

CEO of a Fortune 500 Computer & Electronics Company

Beliefs, ideas, and accomplishments change. They provide an unsteady foundation on which to base your identity and self-worth. You can be wrong. You don’t know everything at this point in your life that you are going to know. You can learn from others, but only if you view them as mentors and not as challengers to who you are as a person.

So how can you learn to separate yourself from your job? It’s a matter of replacement. You must replace your belief that you are your ideas and your results with another belief. A belief in your values. Only then can you achieve the level of detachment necessary to maintain an even temperament, to evaluate each situation to find the best path, no matter who points the way.

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