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What to Do with Big Egos in the Boardroom

Updated: Mar 31

Great talent sometimes comes with a price tag of a larger-than-life personality. When you have one on your leadership team, expect a fair amount of drama in the boardroom.

Larger-than-life personalities have developed big egos that promise regular clashes among team members.

When things heat up in the boardroom, you may wish for harmony in your team.

Wishful thinking.

Unless you lead a monk monastery, harmony is a myth! Until you find a solution to this problem, your greatest assets are your expensive liabilities.

Larger-than-life executives tend to pursue their personal agenda, create unhealthy competition, spark turf wars, and silo their teams. They are the constant source of office drama that toxifies the company's culture with politics, cliques, and rivalries.

Many reasons might be behind rivalries. For example, when I joined Qnet as a COO, the rumor was that the board had seen me as the next CEO. This rumor (leaked from the board) turned the CMO, who had been working for the company for eight years since she joined as an employee no.1, against me. We managed to work together for eight years with a high level of friction and excellent results, but I had my moments of frustration, anger, confusion, and anxiety.

If you have a larger-than-life executive on your team, you know what I'm talking about.

You had your share of battles, lost opportunities, missed deadlines, and lagging business results. You've had never-ending arguments, over-time meetings, late-night quarrels, and zero time or energy for significant others.

And these challenges show up in the business results despite having aces on your team.

We need to unleash the high energy created in a conflict between big egos towards the direction we are heading. The more heated the battle is, the higher the energy is, but when tunneled toward the company's vision, this energy gets extraordinary results.

Even when there is a real rivalry behind the clashes, it's still possible to turn the conflict into results. My CMO and I directed our friction during my tenure as a COO and later as a CEO into "collaborative friction" by harvesting authenticity and integrity as rules of engagement.

There is a fine line between an underperforming team, where larger-than-life characters produce serious dysfunctionalities, and a high-performing team, where larger-than-life personalities tunnel the energy of the conflict into extraordinary results.

Many of my clients have prominent personalities on their executive teams. When we debrief the big egos of their leadership effectiveness scores and benchmark them to the most successful leaders in our database, they see for the first time the negative impact of their ineffective behaviors on the overall business performance.

The team then meets together at an offsite, where we demonstrate the turnaround of conflicts into results. We work together to identify the high energy that makes or breaks performance and learn how to harness it toward the team vision.

In the month after the offsite, they all laugh when they recognize during meetings the behavior patterns that lead them into conflict and use their new lens to change the trajectory of the dialogue.

It's not a show of harmony. The heated conversation seems confrontational, but this time, it has a positive impact. The difference appears in the broader engagement of all team members, faster, high-quality decisions, high commitment to execution, and tight accountabilities.

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