“The ego is not master in its own house.” – Sigmund Freud
There are many historic examples of the consequences of actions but how many can be attributed to the ego of the leader?
One such historic action was that of US World War II General George Marshall. As the Allies were closing in on the Nazis, hindsight can teach us that his driving south slowed down the large eastward thrust, allowing the Russians to get to Berlin first. This then resulted in occupied a greater part of Europe, which remained so for 45 years.
Some reporters of history have blamed his ego, and that as a consequence, affected the geopolitics of Europe, and without doubt a large factor in the Cold War.
Of considerably less historic or global impact workplace ego clashes are a factor in many small businesses.
Often the leader is faced with what has become to be labeled situational management – i.e. playing the cards in front of them, without either cognisance or thought for the future effects of their actions, or the fall out of those who have to live the consequences of these actions.
What is the best way to manage these problems?
Ego clashes can be divisive issues that can harm businesses. The fallout from this will have affected many of us. This can take many forms including failure to consult or include colleagues, both in and out of work.
One unenviable characteristic of ego clashes is the uncomfortable atmosphere that is created when this happens. This permeates into other parts of the business affecting moral and productivity.
I have witnessed poorly facilitated meetings where the combative egos deliberately tried to talk over the other. In one case, it descended into a shouting match. As the two people were more senior than the majority of the attendees, it became uncomfortable and embarrassing.
One of my clients recognised that managing personality/ego clashes was an area in which he needed support. He recognised he lacked the knowledge or experience of how to deal with this. In supporting him and whilst working through the challenges led us to conclude that there is no golden bullet.
Solutions are often driven by the personalities involved, so understanding motivation behaviours and communication styles are important. The organisational culture is also a major factor in these issues.
One simple yet important method of proactively managing this is by having regular, open conversations, giving the opportunity for issues to be aired, can help to prevent ego clashes happening.
If (as in the case of my client referred to above) the problem is an inherited serious and long-standing ego clash, it must be dealt with immediately. With guidance, he got the parties to meet and understand what had brought them to their current impasse.
On reflection, he believed that the success of rebalancing the situation was down to strong facilitation skills, him letting them talk, in turn, separating the fact from the fiction. Then without judging them, getting each party to recognise and focus their common goals.
Avoiding blame was critical to the process. Another very important part of the process is to ensure that (where possible) getting to the root of the problem can help to resolve any fall-out, prevent it happening again and enable everyone to move forward.
Differences of opinion, if encouraged and managed properly, can be healthy in business, allowing differences to be aired and voices to be heard.
It is important to recognise the benefits of strong facilitation skills are required as, if an impasse is reached, a judgement must ultimately made, and compromise may be required. Any decision should be fully explained and always be made for sound business reasons.
Facilitating regular open communication is not a soft option. Conversely bullying people is no way to manage people. In order to enjoy success the culture of business should be such that everyone should enjoy their jobs and be able to make a valid contribution.
People will and do disagree. Differences of opinion can be discussed and resolved sensibly. Minor disagreements should never be allowed to get out of hand, because ultimately they can cause consequences later on.
Why do workplace egos clash?
“Workplace ego clashes happen for various reasons,” says Dr Lisa Matthewman, Principal Lecturer in Occupational and Organisational Psychology at the University of Westminster. “They can be the result of a conflict of personalities, professional jealousy or communication problems. Sometimes they happen when someone is trying to establish themselves as the alpha female or male.”
“As well as conflict over resources in some businesses, they can be the result of office politics. General causes include how the business is structured or its culture, for example, where fear, insecurity or lack of trust exists. Ego clashes can also be more common in times of change or where there is uncertainty over someone’s role,” she explains.
But what affect do ego clashes have on the people directly involved? While the person who emerges victorious may feel superior, the loser can be left feeling demoralised, demotivated depressed, tense and stressed. They may often seek revenge.
“Serious workplace ego clashes can be highly stressful and demoralising for colleagues who aren’t directly involved. It can seriously disrupt productivity and efficiency, because people’s energy, time and attention is taken up with conflict, not working productively as a team.”
“If left unresolved, as well as damaging productivity, the culture of an organisation can stagnate, which can harm creativity. In small businesses, problems are often made worse because people usually need to work more closely together.”
In summary, work place egos (organisation culture permitting) if managed positively can contribute to the success of any business. However, if the opposite is true, the negative effects of the down sides are disproportionate to the upsides.
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Latest posts by Rob Knowles (see all)
- The 2020 New Year’s Resolution Business Owners and Leaders Can’t Ignore - November 6, 2020
- Why is it Important for Leaders to Manage Egos? - September 19, 2018
- Why do people think Health and Safety is not important? - May 9, 2018