When ego and personal agenda consumes projects

As project managers, behavior is always on show, the more experience obtained then the more disdain which can be displayed towards other project managers who may not be as experienced. This can relate to years in the industry or types of projects completed.  In this instance ego can either be a positive or negative impact on project delivery. It is important to be able to call out behavior that isn’t acceptable as it can corrode a project team.

If you have any longevity in delivering projects of any type, then it is more than likely you would have encountered different types of characters along the journey, each with their own set of challenges. From problematic stakeholders, absent or inexperienced sponsors, misalignment between those at the top and those at the coal face, or ineffective communicators within the team, there are many different personalities that intersect on a daily basis.

This all relates to the type of characters involved within the project, specifically their ego and how it plays out within dynamic and fast-paced environments. There is little argument to suggest that thick skin is required to be in the project management game, and egotistical behaviour in particular can threaten the success of a project.

When in a work environment with many characters to negotiate and Human Resources not too far away, It can be very difficult to speak the truth or call out behavior detrimental to the projects outcomes.  Especially when the environment doesn’t support it or it’s coming from sponsors and stakeholders who haven’t accepted warnings about problems or risks.

There is a leadership trait that can make a big impact on how landscapes dominated by ego’s can be navigated, called “being brave-smart”. Resources are facing demand from corporate politics and pressures that eventuate due to rapid change. So it is hardly surprising, then, that when high performers emerge and deliver what look to be successful projects, shaping how projects get delivered, particularly when they demonstrate high levels of confidence and seeming ability to get the job done. High achievers or performers often come with egos that, for better or worse, leave their mark on teams charged with delivering big change within the work culture.

Healthy egos belong to people who know they are good at what they do and utilise their knowledge and experience in productive ways. In healthy and supportive cultures, this sort of confidence is a huge enabler to delivering success. But it’s also personal. Life experience allows individuals to offer the best of them when they are comfortable with whom they are. When people feel good about what they’ve done, how they are doing, and themselves in general, it’s easier to tackle even the most challenging problems.

Brave-smart project managers implicitly understand that for a successful team, confidence is a must, but there’s a big difference between confidence and egotistical behavior. In toxic or deeply challenging environments, what often emerges is, a-perform-at-al- costs culture that can be deeply detrimental to success, as it allows egotistical behavior to thrive. It has been witnessed often enough to comfortably say when egotistical behavior becomes a factor in how projects operate; it’s a huge contributor to increasing the risk of failure. When all of the indicators are pointing toward success, this is easy to overlook. But when things start going wrong or off-course, ego can become a very big problem.

Fostering support and transparent culture is a quality in good leaders, who have the competence and ability to see beyond the egos in the room, the foresight to make the right decisions, and the courage to tackle egotistical behaviour head-on.  A good leader will make decisions on what is best for the project or the company and not focus the egos in the room.  They will evaluate situations on facts, seek clarification, get several views on a given situation, and they will ask for guidance where it’s necessary.

They ensure roles and responsibilities within their team is understood, that the right people are in the right roles, and they will adhere to the principles of strong governance. Most importantly, an effective leader is only as effective as the sponsor they are delivering for. If the sponsor isn’t listening, project leaders need to be adept enough to find a way to communicate news , whether good or bad.

Brave-smart leaders implicitly understand how important it is to spend time with the team to gauge how each of them is feeling and use positive reinforcement and other fit-for-purpose techniques to help create a positive environment to get the best from them.

Setting the tone is a valid – and invaluable – starting point for eliciting the kind of behaviors that leave ego at the door. Examples may include:

  • Agreeing what is acceptable behavior upfront
  • Listening and allowing others to speak
  • Valuing the input, opinion, and perspective from various viewpoints within the team
  • Remain focused on outcomes that the project is aiming to achieve as a team so that contributions remain in context, are not easily parked, and do not side-track or personalize matters
  • Ensuring that those with the egotistical behaviors need to back up what they say with facts
  • Setting the platform that enables Brave-Smart conversations to be had from the outset

Brave-smart behavior should always be the goal. When a team is clear on some of the above behaviors, it makes it easier – though not easy – to call out behavior like that of the egotist which is never conducive to fostering a long term productive delivery environment.

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