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Is being ego driven damaging your career? Being purpose-driven is better

July 9, 2021 - 18 min read


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Being ego driven vs purpose-driven

Why is it better to choose to be purpose-driven?

How to know if you’re ego-driven or purpose-driven

What does ego-driven leadership look like?

What does a purpose-driven leader look like?

3 ways to become more purpose-driven

Go from ego-driven to purpose-driven to achieve fulfillment

What drives you to do what you do?

Whether you’re at work, at home, or experiencing activities with the people you love, something is driving your actions.

There’s a force that keeps you going even when you don’t feel like doing the hard things.

Some people tend to be ego driven. The force driving them to perform is self-motivated. They act to further their own interests even when it gets difficult.

But being ego driven isn’t necessarily the best way to motivate yourself. Purpose is another strong driving force that lets people push through hard times and challenges.

What’s the difference between being ego driven and purpose driven? Which one is better, and why? Let’s cover everything you need to know about ego and purpose.


Being ego driven vs purpose driven

First, what is your ego? Your ego is an illusion of your sense of self. The ego is how people separate themselves from others. As such, egoism is the tendency to act in one’s own self-interest.

Being ego-driven means being driven by a need to prove oneself better than others. On the other hand, purpose is the ‘why’ that drives you to do what you do.

Being purpose driven means that you strive to achieve a goal for the goal itself and not to appear better than someone else or achieve social status.


How is ego driven behavior different from purpose driven behavior?

Someone who's ego driven will try to achieve their goal to prove that they're better than everyone else. 

On the other hand, someone who is purpose driven has a desire to improve themselves. They don’t need external validation for their self-esteem, whereas ego driven people do.

While those driven by ego won’t be happy when they fail, those driven by purpose will see failure as an opportunity to grow.

Ego driven people are sometimes egocentric and narcissistic, which can lead to a toxic environment. Their actions tend to be self-serving. Purpose driven people can show selflessness and help others for the sake of it.

Finally, ego driven people often will feel jealous or envious when others succeed. Purpose driven people instead feel happy to see others achieve success.

How are they similar?

Purpose driven and ego driven behavior still have a few elements in common. Both have a goal to achieve.

They also have the drive to achieve this goal. 

The source of the drive may be different, but they're still driven to act to achieve what they want. As a result, both tend to find the motivation needed to move forward.

Why is it better to choose to be purpose driven? 

Finding ways to let your purpose drive you can lead to a more fruitful and fulfilling career and daily life. It’s better to be driven by your own hard work than by what others think of you.

Based on the latest research from BetterUp, employees who value meaningful work tend to occupy more senior and skilled positions. They’re more likely to emerge as leaders.

Raises and promotions are more common for employees who have meaningful work. 

BetterUp’s research shows they’re 10% more likely to have received a raise in the past year and 5% more likely to have received a promotion in the past six months. They’re also more satisfied with their work when their job is more meaningful. 

As a result, they’re happier and more productive.


Choosing to be ego driven can result in the opposite. Your ego can narrow your vision in your career.

When ego drives you, purpose and meaning fall behind. It’s more important to feel good about oneself than to find meaning. Someone who’s focused on their own self-interest will also tend not to actively listen to others.

How to know if you’re ego driven or purpose driven

If you’re not sure whether you’re purpose driven or ego driven, here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure it out:

1. Do you tend to seek out the opinions of others to help you?

Someone who’s purpose driven won’t hesitate to ask other people what they think, even if this might prove them wrong. That’s because they understand the value of diversity of thought.

On the other hand, someone who uses their ego in their decisions will tend to believe that they’re always right. As a result, they don’t typically seek out other people’s opinions.


2. How do you react upon seeing other people succeed?

Do you feel jealousy or envy when you see other people succeed? This is a sign that you may be ego driven.

If, however, you feel genuinely happy to see others succeed, you’re likely not driven by ego.

3. How do you feel when you don’t receive external validation for an accomplishment?

Most people enjoy receiving external validation or positive feedback. Even those driven by purpose can find this pleasant.

But how you feel when you don’t receive it is a good indication of what drives you. If you feel upset or angry, there’s a chance you’re ego driven. The ego thrives on getting validation from others. It’s crucial for an ego driven person’s self-worth and self-confidence.

Purpose driven people don’t always need that validation to feel at their best.

4. Are you able to see a situation from someone else’s perspective?

Not all people who are purpose driven are naturally empathetic. But some will be able to place themselves in other people’s shoes before coming to a conclusion.

Ego driven people, on the other hand, default to their own points of view. They don’t have the tendency to try to see a situation from someone else’s perspective.

5. How do you react when you experience failure?

How you behave in the face of failure says a lot about who you are.

If you see it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, you’re likely not ego driven. Taking failure personally doesn’t automatically mean you’re ego driven, but it can indicate a trend in that direction.


6. Do you feel that you have improved as a person over time?

Because purpose driven people see their failures as a chance to improve, they tend to experience personal growth and become better people over time. They do the inner work required to grow.

Ego driven people don’t always improve over time. 

Their narrower viewpoint and sometimes negative attitude towards failure make it difficult for them to develop their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

What does ego driven leadership look like?

Want to know if you’re currently working with someone who has an ego problem? There are several traits you can look for to see if someone uses ego driven leadership.

First, they don’t handle constructive criticism well. So, if you have previously given them feedback, think back to how they reacted.

Did they get upset? Do they believe that it’s their way or the highway? If so, this person may be ego driven.

For example, let’s say you believe that your current project could be done more efficiently by changing the workflow. If you bring it up to them, they’ll shoot it down, even if your perspective could help improve the entire team’s productivity.

An ego driven leader will also tend to appear charming on the outside. However, they display manipulative behavior. For instance, they may suddenly start to compliment you and be nice to you if they know that their own supervisor will be asking about their performance.

They’ll also place their own interests above that of the team. As a result, working underneath them can feel limiting and oppressive. You don’t have as much of an opportunity to grow, especially not as a leader.

They’ll see emerging leadership traits as a threat to their own ego driven goals. 

Here’s an example. 

Let’s say a bigger project came up, which would benefit from delegation. You’ve proven yourself to have the qualities of a leader in the past. But instead of delegating to you, your leader keeps their power to themselves. 

As a result, the project suffers, and your team is less productive than it could be.

What does a purpose driven leader look like? 

Working with a purpose driven leader is a completely different experience than working with an ego driven one.

First off, a leader who is purpose driven will place the team above their own self-interests. For example, they’ll be able to delegate tasks they enjoy doing to focus on those they don’t if it means that it can solve a problem for a project.

Instead of focusing on looking good in the eyes of their own leaders, they focus on helping their team members grow. They can provide guidance and feedback to help team members improve. But they’re also capable of receiving feedback graciously.

For instance, let’s say you feel that a project is falling behind. You could safely share your concerns with your leader and let them know that something about the current workflow isn’t working.

Instead of taking it personally, a purpose driven leader will step up to the plate and find a solution.

They’ll also come to you and your colleagues for your opinion. That’s because purpose driven leaders value other people’s perspectives. They don’t believe that they know everything or that they’re always right.

Because of this, working with a purpose driven leader can feel empowering. They want to improve themselves, but they also want to help the team and its individuals improve.

They see the value in creating other leaders, not just making themselves more powerful. As a result, they’ll empower them with the tools to succeed.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a new project comes up. Instead of imposing their method on the team, a leader driven by purpose will understand that the end result matters more than ego.

Because of this, they decide to have a team meeting to brainstorm the best way to tackle this type of project. They’ve also noticed that you stepped up as a leader in past projects. 

As a result, they decide to put you in charge of leading half the team to focus on designing a workflow while they work with the rest of the team to establish a timeline.


3 ways to become more purpose driven 

Even if you’re currently ego driven, you don’t need to stay stuck in this mindset. Here are three ways that you can work on becoming more purpose driven.

1. Practice self-awareness and stay present

You need to be self-aware to avoid letting your ego take over. But you also need to learn how to stay in the present moment. 

This will allow you to focus on one task at a time and move towards your purpose.

When you’re self-aware, you know how your actions impact other people. You’re also aware of what you do at all times instead of letting your actions go to autopilot. As a result, you can stay focused on your purpose instead of letting the ego drive.

Being self-aware will also make it easier to see when you make a mistake or when you’re wrong about something. 

You can then take the right course of action to learn from your mistakes or get outside opinions to broaden your horizons.

2. Learn how to listen actively and receive feedback

Being purpose driven instead of ego driven means that you’re able to listen to others. It means being able to listen fully instead of focusing on what you want to say next.

You realize that you cannot achieve your goals on your own. You can succeed more and help others succeed by becoming more open-minded.

And open-mindedness starts with a willingness to truly listen.

A purpose driven person will also know how to ask for and receive feedback

They know that asking for feedback will help them improve as a person. In turn, this will inch them closer to achieving their goals.


3. Give yourself compassion

Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t turn out the way you anticipated. Practice giving yourself compassion when you experience failure. Failure is inevitable when you’re living with purpose.

That’s because failure helps you learn and grow.

Realize that you’re only human and that you don’t need to beat yourself up when you don’t succeed. Remember that purpose isn’t a destination. Instead, it’s a lifelong path.

You should also practice this compassion towards others, not just yourself.

Go from ego driven to purpose driven to achieve fulfillment

Satisfying your ego can feel good in the short term. But over time, being ego driven can result in the stagnation of growth and self-improvement.

Being too focused on your own ego also tends to make you focus on an outcome instead of your path. But you’ll spend your entire life chasing this outcome.

On the other hand, if you let purpose drive you forward, you can enjoy the little moments along the way. You can find meaning in things that the ego doesn’t find satisfying, like experiencing failure or seeing others succeed.

 Are you struggling to break out of ego driven habits? BetterUp can help. Schedule your demo now to experience how coaching can help you develop as a purpose driven leader.

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Published July 9, 2021

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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