In 1962 President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited Paris. Jacqueline charmed the entire city, including the intractable de Gaulle. At the conclusion of their visit, President Kennedy held a press conference where he said, “I do not think it is altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.”
We all have an ego, and it’s safe to assume that Kennedy’s ego was impressive. Despite this, he understood enough to lay aside his ego in a light-hearted way. Besides, when you’re standing next to Jackie Kennedy, you should be happy anyone notices you’re there at all, I suppose.
On a smaller scale, every day, the ego of managers is tested. In a subtle way, but in a way that can have dramatic consequences to the performance of the manager’s staff.
Let’s say you’re the manager of a small team. A team member comes to you with a problem. The project isn’t going well; people are angry; chaos is just around the corner. You listen intently to the issue. Immediately you drop an idea on your staff member, something seemingly simple and silly. Try this or that. Something this staff member should have known, you think to yourself.
This is a common scenario between people and their managers. That next thought that entered the manager’s mind is critical. If, as the manager who came up with the suggestion that seems so apparent believes, it’s due to their inherent genius – boom – you’ve lost. You’re a terrible manager and a terrible person – full stop.
Some managers may take this situation to indicate they have a better understanding of what’s going on or are generally smarter than their team. Even if that’s the case, it is poor form and counterproductive to make that point simply for ego points. The fact is it’s most likely because having an outside perspective helps identify “simple” things that those in the weeds on a subject may miss. It’s ubiquitous and does not indicate superior intelligence on the part of management. It is, after all, why kids can often cut through the clutter in thinking so quickly and why tools like the five why’s, essentially the question pattern of your average two-year-old, is so effective at problem-solving.
Once a manager gets into the habit of believing this scenario is an indicator of their intellect, they are likely to extend their behavior to include talking down the team and pointing out instances where they had the “solution”. Their internal PR machine will reinforce this notion that they are above their team in some way. This will cause the team to reduce meaningful interaction with their manager. Team members will avoid bringing up any issue. Better to avoid the pain now and just take the lumps later since pain is inevitable in these situations, a delay is a rational response.
If you find yourself in this situation, stop the default scenario playing out in your head. Focus on helping your team members navigate through the current problem then focus on how to help them develop strategies to avoid the problem in the future. Oh, and thank them for coming to you for guidance.