People Management: Coaching session

Q: What if you're wrong and leaders do need to be nice and avoid displays of ego?

Are you kidding? The third sector without ego is like champagne without bubbles.

Just look through a list of major national charities: Sue Ryder, Leonard Cheshire, John Grooms, Carr-Gomm, Esmee Fairbairn and Rathbone, to name just a few.

Let's remember that it is often the drive, determination and sheer bloody mindedness of individuals that drives forward a cause and leads to the establishment of a wonderful charity. To suggest that we suppress this driving force is a monstrous conceit.

I remember one of my members telling me about the character of his founder. Apparently the founder's management style was to lock problematic staff in a cupboard (tempting, I know).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ego as "a part of mind that has a sense of individuality".

The Industrial Society used to suggest that one of the components of a good leader was "humility". Although this must be a defining characteristic for an abbot or a bishop, it can sit ill with the drive that's needed to lead a third sector organisation. It's not much good being humble when you are confronting a minister or local authority and arguing for contract reform.

Ego is essential to any leadership job. It is what keeps us sane and committed. It is what helps us drive the organisation forward when we face a financial crisis.

However, I agree with you if the pursuit of ego is at the expense of the wellbeing of the organisation. An ego that does not take account of the needs and objectives of trustees, stakeholders and staff will be dangerous. So balance is crucial. A warning sign for us all is when our ego gets in the way of securing the right answer to a problem, which sometimes means admitting we've got things wrong.

Machiavelli on leadership is always instructive: "Because it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer for a Prince to be feared than loved, if he is to fail in one of the two."

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