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When Ego Dominates The Need For Solutions

Change is a challenging experience for most participants and even more for the leader. This is a true story of mine.

Once, I was to help an organization with a challenging innovation project that was delayed for 2 years. The project fell apart during the integration phase. It was difficult to trace the root cause of the main system failure because the team who developed that system had left the company and there was little documentation written for the system.

Still, after about 3 months of solution assessment, data gathering and system monitoring with a collaborative team, we finally identified the broken link. I elaborated on the strategy to fix it and presented it to John, the project portfolio manager before I would present it to the project steering committee.

I presented the solution to John with great energy and dedication. He was very focused and listened to me with few interruptions. Afterward, we scheduled a meeting for 1 week later to present the new approach to the steering committee.

Two days later, John informed me that the steering meeting was postponed. Then, a week later, by the coffee machine, another executive tells me, “Too bad you could not make it to yesterday’s meeting. John explained that the team was on a good path but unfortunately it was overrated.”

Before I could discuss the situation with John, I was receiving some last-minute requests for menial tasks, followed by many reminders. Next, my working hours were closely monitored and commented on. There was never a good time to present the solution to the steering committee for the priority had changed. But why? No reason was found.

The following week, I was called in for a meeting with John.

“Well Nadia, I know that you are good at providing solutions, but things have changed here, and in this organization, though things are not so well, we do certain things differently than your way. Therefore, I must inform you that I have to end your contract.”

What happened, really? The failure came from a development phase that John was leading 2 years ago before I arrived on the project. He was so afraid that the other executive would blame him that he chose to hide the finding as well as the solution.

His decision to conceal the facts has cost the company several hundred thousand euro more than the millions that were engaged and at risk.

John’s ego was bigger than his need for a solution that would have moved the project forward.

As Diana Black says: “Big egos are just big shields to lots of empty space.”

When a consultant is hired, it is to deliver solutions. I did a great job and my greatest satisfaction would have been to see that the solutions I delivered made a difference for my client.

Was it the company culture, a blame and consume environment that made John conceal the solution? Or was it because of John’s insecurity and the size of his ego?

It appeared to be both to me. Therefore it is important to develop transformational leadership and emotional intelligence across the organization so that people accept that errors can be made at any time and that identifying them should not make them feel threatened.

A leader’s greatest satisfaction should be in what he/she leads others to achieve and not of his/her own ego. In fact, great leaders manage their ego to a point that whenever they are entering a room or a building to serve, they leave their ego at the door.

Leaders, can you do that? If not, it can be learned, fortunately.


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