Ego can be a positive or negative in project delivery, however, whether it’s an asset or a distraction, it’s important to be able to call out behaviour that isn’t acceptable.

If you’ve been in project delivery for long enough, it’s pretty likely that you’ve come across more than your share of people challenges.

Whether it’s problematic stakeholders, absent or inexperienced sponsors, misalignment between those at the top and those in the trenches, or ineffective communicators within the team, there are many different personalities that intersect on a daily basis.

One of the common denominators in these challenges is ego and how it plays out within dynamic and fast-paced environments. There’s little doubt that people need to have thick skin to be in the PM game, however, we have seen all too often what happens to projects when egotistical behaviour threatens the success of a project.

It can be incredibly difficult to speak truth to power or call out behaviour detrimental to the outcomes we’re aiming for, particularly when the environment doesn’t support it or it’s coming from sponsors and stakeholders who haven’t heeded warnings about problems or risks.

However, there is a leadership trait that can make a big impact on how we navigate through landscapes dominated by ego. It’s called being brave-smart.

How High Performers and Ego Shape Environment

We live in a time where corporate politics and the pressures that come with rapid change are demanding a lot of our people. It’s hardly surprising, then, that when high performers emerge and deliver what look to be successful projects, that they are allowed to shape how projects get delivered, particularly when they demonstrate high levels of confidence and seeming ability to get the job done.

High performers often come with egos that, for better or worse, can leave their mark on teams charged with delivering big change and consequently in the cultures that they work within.

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 themselves only when they are content with where 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 – whether it’s their own problems or someone else’s.

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 behaviour.

In toxic or deeply challenging environments, what often emerges is a perform-at-all-costs culture that can be deeply detrimental to success, as it allows egotistical behaviour to thrive. And we’ve seen it often enough to comfortably say when egotistical behaviour 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, it’s easy to overlook (or look away). But when things start going wrong or off-course, ego can become a very big problem.

Good Leaders Foster a Supportive and Transparent Culture

Good leaders have the competence and ability to see beyond the egos in the room, the smarts 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.

­­­­Within their teams, they’ll ensure that people understand their roles and responsibilities are clearly 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 – be it good or bad – to the sponsor.

Cultivating Brave-Smart is Setting the Tone

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 behaviours that leave ego at the door. Examples may include:

  • Agreeing what is acceptable behaviour 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 personalise matters
  • Ensuring that those with the egotistical behaviours 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 behaviour should always be the goal. When a team is clear on some of the above behaviours, it makes it easier – though not easy – to call out behaviour like that of the egotist that  is never conducive to fostering a long term productive delivery environment.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...