4 Ways Executive Ego Can Destroy Company Culture
One of the greatest challenges retail executives face is striking a balance between the tasks required to maximize productivity and the people skills necessary to create a culture where customer service and excellence are the norm.
Far too many retail executives become so mired in the short-term “bottom line” that they neglect to nurture the leadership skills that lead to long-term results. One of the greatest dangers these executives face is falling victim to their own egos — egos which can prevent them from making sound business decisions, unconsciously set a poor example, and create a culture where poor customer service and underperformance are an acceptable way to work.
In fact, retail leaders who don’t keep their own egos in check run the risk of creating a culture where despite having employees who are talented and hardworking, dysfunction reigns. Specifically, there are four dysfunctions that all retail executives need to be aware of and keep in check:
1. Dismissing Feedback
In the fast-paced world of retail, it’s easy to move with lightning speed to a decision, sometimes discounting others’ point of views. Unfortunately, this can lead to negative unforeseen and significant consequences in profitability, brand image, employee morale and customer service.
And while every retail executive knows they should listen, the ego wants to win, be right, and avoid appearing incompetent or stupid. When these ego threats are triggered, it's almost impossible for leaders to constructively hear others and take to heart what will be best for the overall business.
When leaders are defensive or abrasive, it triggers similarly dysfunctional behaviors in their employees. When this happens, it doesn’t matter what “customer service” poster you put up on the wall. The organizational dysfunction will not decrease until leaders identify and overcome their personal ego-system reactions.
A culture of trust and transparency starts at the top. This means that company leaders must be highly — and visibly — receptive to input and feedback, especially when they disagree. One great practice is to notice when you're sure that you're right and ask your team to tell you what you're not seeing or hearing.
2. The Blame Game
Retail by nature has many moving parts, and a high rate of change. When things go wrong, our ego involuntarily points the finger at others and puts the focus on who’s incompetent, doesn’t get it, or never should have been put in that role. Painting a bleak picture of the company, co-workers, customers, etc., may make us feel better in the short term, but often makes us look (and feel) worse in the long run.
From the ego’s point of view, being wrong or at fault (especially in public) can feel like death. Let’s face it: Everyone wants to be the hero and no one wants to be the fall guy. When blame is the name of the game, it's the rare leader who can own his or her responsibility first.
Retail executives must start by calling out the fact that the blame game is going on, making it too risky for anyone to take responsibility for anything. By humbly owning their (or the team/company) part of the problem, the leader sets the example for others to “look in the mirror.” Leaders who are secure enough to say “I screwed up” create a culture where employees hold themselves accountable.
3. Us vs. Them
Every retail executive has sat in a meeting where HR is frustrated with operations, sales ignores HR, and everyone is mad at IT. In this common climate of mistrust, performance issues don’t get addressed, and departments fight over who is in charge instead of coming together to achieve the organization’s goals.
While everyone may complain about turf wars, there's a hidden side benefit to the ego. Any lack of performance can be passed off as the failure of another person, group or department. We believe that if they had just listened to us, everything would have turned out fine. Sales wouldn't have slipped, the floor would be better managed, and customer satisfaction scores would be higher.
One way to break this deadlock is to acknowledge the conflict and seek to understand how you as a leader may be contributing to the problem. How are the other side’s frustrations with you true? What are the consequences of your turf war on the organization’s performance? What common goals can you align on?
4. Avoiding Conflict
Too often, leaders sugarcoat, vent to others or just move folks from role to role within a store, hoping the conflicts will resolve themselves. As a result, productivity suffers, employees feel unengaged and important matters are left to fester.
Almost no one wants to appear mean or uncaring, and even senior leaders resist being disliked. Therefore, we tell ourselves that we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings by being too direct. At a visceral level, we avoid putting ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having a direct discussion about a delicate issue.
There are three steps to overcoming this ego threat. Start by sharing with the other person the discomfort you feel at bringing up the issue. Then let them know what your intention is for the conversation. And finally, state your observations about their behavior, not your conclusions. One leader’s vulnerability can lead the way for someone else to face their fear of conflict, and encourage them to be more open to feedback.
Shayne Hughes is the co-author of the newly released book "Ego Free Leadership: Ending the Unconscious Habits that Hijack Your Business," as well as president of Learning as Leadership.
Shayne Hughes is the co-author of the newly released book "Ego Free Leadership: Ending the Unconscious Habits that Hijack Your Business" and President of Learning as Leadership.