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Sweeping Up Worms

With the opening of a new venture and numerous reporters arriving in an hour, it felt like one of those "chickens with heads off" days. We were close, but not ready. So like locusts to a wheat field, a swarm of people were devouring the last minute details. Then, it rained. With rain, came worms, hundreds washing onto the entrance sidewalk. When I returned to the area, I found a manager, several department supervisors and a director outside with brooms, sweeping up worms. No one asked them to sweep worms. But, with guests arriving shortly and no one else available, they found brooms and started sweeping.

They didn't get hung up over titles or roles. Instead, they did what needed to be done at the time. Their actions were what I call, ego-detached. Being ego-detached frees you to do what needs to be done because it's not about you; it's about something bigger than you. It's an attitude of contribution. How can I best serve today? How can I help? What can I contribute? Being ego-detached is taking the you (your ego) out of the picture. It's looking at the best result, not necessarily the result that's best for you.

But here's the twist. Being ego detached is not being ego-less. I heard Donald Trump talking about egos with Larry King on CNN recently. He commented that all the successful people he knew had big egos, defining ego as confidence or self-esteem. Certainly believing in yourself and having high self-esteem are qualities to help grow personal success. I'm not suggesting you shed either. Quite the opposite. You need plenty of confidence and self-esteem in order to be ego-detached.


I learned that lesson as a senior manager involved in a start-up company. One afternoon, the president saw me stapling information sheets in a conference room. After saying good-bye to his guest he came back and asked, "Nan, what are you doing?" After explaining why meeting a FedEx pickup was critical to an important corporate initiative and the number of people working to meet it, he offered to help. People who are ego-detached recognize that the best use of their time and talent can vary in the moment.

I used to marvel at colleagues of mine, other Vice Presidents, who delayed getting something to their boss because their executive assistant was gone for the day and it needed copying. I'm not talking about the stuff that can and should wait. It's those late night meetings when the boss says he'd like to review something that night and he needs a copy. Ego-detached people go to the copier, copy it and walk the copy back to their boss, regardless of title. It's how best they can serve at the moment.

If you want to be winning at working, don't let your ego dictate your actions, let the situation. Don't be afraid to sweep up worms from time to time. And don't be afraid to serve. As Tolstoy put it, "The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people." That's ego-detached.

© 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at http://www.winningatworking.com. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit http://www.nanrussell.com or contact Nan at info@nanrussell.com.


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