Reflecting on Rewards: Ego or Essential?

I love photography. I love finding the right photos to augment a story almost as much as I love writing them. From a photographer’s perspective reflections are such a “can’t miss” place to point a lens. The other thing I love about reflections is the role their opposite natures play in composing the overall beauty of a photograph.

Opposites and reflections have also appeared to me in the work world lately. I’ve had a number of discussions with people about how busy their jobs are. The conversations go something like this:

“Wow I can’t believe how busy I am. There’s just so much work to do! Don’t get me wrong, I love my work. I’m good at it, and I love how I get to help other people. I love being recognized as an expert. But I’ve been doing this job for a number of years now, and I’m getting a bit stale. I’m not learning much anymore and it’s time for new challenges. I wish I could find some time to take on some new things but I’m just too busy. It’s really starting to frustrate me.”

Azay 2That got me thinking about the opposite forms of rewards and how we manage them in our careers. Generally when we consider forms of rewards, we speak of extrinsic forms of rewards (those that originate outside of us) and intrinsic rewards (those that we derive internally). Extrinsic rewards often appear in the form of financial rewards, public recognition, gifts, etc. Intrinsic rewards are things like providing people a sense of meaning, choice, competence or progress.

Are there reflections of these opposites worth considering? I’m not sure I’ve come across anything that officially labels them but could a reflection of extrinsic rewards be ego-based rewards, where our self is bolstered by others opinions and praise? Could a reflection of intrinsic rewards be essential rewards, where our self image increases because we actually grow and experience a real joy in our engagement? Is there a cycle to these ego and essential rewards, perhaps more like an upward spiral where each cycle takes us to the next level?

Consider the growth cycle of a job assignment. We take a new role, we’re excited and energized by it. As we start out we learn and we grow. We become competent, then we excel and we begin to see rewards for what we do. Some are extrinsic including raises and promotions. Some may be ego-based where we are valued by others for our expertise. The more we do the more recognition we get. At some point in the cycle we begin to get stale and our job feels repetitive. We want to grow again so we start to look for new challenges. We want to be more!

i think this is a critical point in the cycle, where we can rise to the next level. At first there may be a reluctance to move on. We don’t ask for what we desire because we like feeling valued and because we fear letting people down. In some ways we feel safe with what we have and we may be reluctant to step outside our comfort zone. So we might linger longer in this safe spot, or perhaps take a promotion into a higher level of, in essence, the same role. What we may find if we follow this path is we stay on the same level of the spiral and end up in the same place a year or two down the road. Eventually we reach a place that our need for essential rewards outweighs the extrinsic rewards associated with the role at any level – we are dissatisfied to such an extent that we are driven to find an alternative.

So what is the path to the next level? For me it is knowing what I really want to contribute. It is about having an understanding of what I long to create, express and experience. That’s the first trick. Those are very internal concepts and require some deep self-inquiry to discover. They aren’t concepts that will feed our ego. How do we set aside the attraction of extrinsic or ego-based rewards and focus on understanding what will give us real opportunities for fulfillment at a deeper personal level? The next trick is to believe in what we have discovered about ourselves, believe in our ability to excel in these new areas and then ask for what we want. Perhaps most importantly, to consciously let go of what is feeding our ego and holding us back in order to make room for the new.

For leaders there is another reflection of this cycle. If we look at our team members and the wealth of expertise each brings, there may be a reluctance to allow that teammate to move on. As a leader of a team, our success (and our extrinsic and ego-based rewards) are driven by the success IMG_4798of our team. So we tend to retain their expertise so as to continue to experience those rewards. But as with individuals, we need to look for the level for the organization.

What if we helped our teammates assess what would give them essential rewards? Then what if we worked with them to find a role within our team that provided those rewards? If one isn’t available we would help them find what they are looking for in other parts of the organization. The benefit to us as a leader is to become known as the type of leader who grows people and therefore makes it easier for us to attract top talent.

We don’t make the ultimate decision on how people choose to contribute … they do that themselves. We can only help people uncover what the next level is for them and do our best to find a place for them to realize it. If we don’t, chances are they will find that fulfillment somewhere else. It is our job as leaders to understand the essential rewards that our teammates value most, and find a way to provide them.

Published by

Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

6 thoughts on “Reflecting on Rewards: Ego or Essential?

  1. One of my favourite things to do is look for the gifts in others and encourage and help grow them. Back when I had a team – yes, I was sorry to lose the talents of some when they moved on – but my joy at seeing them follow their hearts far out weighed the loss.

    Great post Ian – thanks!

    Diana xo

  2. I get a great reward by just writing my books or doing the stand up comedy but I also do like to hear how people liked it as well. It’s a small reward compared to the active writing but it’s good for our egos to get the pat on the back for a job well done either as a leader or team member

  3. This morning I read a post on regrets of the dying and regret for undone tasks of intrinsic value (being true to self, finding inner happiness, expressing feelings) were high on the list.
    I like the terms ‘ego’ and ‘essential’ for extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. You should copyright that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s