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Sorry, I Cannot See Past Your God Complex

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 11/23/2011

If your team members are commenting snidely, "Sorry, your God complex is talking so loudly I can't hear a word you say," it may be time for serious self-assessment. If you are disconnected from the team, your project may solve the wrong problem or fail. Here's what you need to know and to do.

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    What God Complex?

    Look at me, I'm great! It's pretty easy to spot the individuals in a group that are suffering from a God complex. Talk to them briefly and they will gladly explain to you how superior their intellect is to everyone else's and how they deserve preferential treatment because they are elite. Mistakes in judgment are unheard of, and while they do deign to visit the common folks in their squalid little cubicles, they never fail to make it plain that they prefer the pristine chambers of their corporate ivory towers.

    They hover in their offices over risk analysis reports and Gantt charts, and their idea of managing a project is to issue orders in rapid-fire succession regardless of whether those orders will help or harm the project's progress. Unfortunately, because of their lack of communication with the people who are actually hands-on with the project, they may become overly focused on managerial tasks or small details and fail to see the real obstacles that are impeding the project.

    Here's a list of seven warning signs of a God complex in progress:

    • Micro-management
    • Bullying or manipulation
    • Easily angered or fits of temper
    • Poor communication skills
    • Judgmental
    • Arrogance
    • God-like behavior

    While these all sound like poor managerial qualities, do they really affect a team, stakeholders or projects that much?

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    How Power-Mad Leadership Hurts Teams

    There are at least three main ways that this type of behavior affects projects:

    1. Team spirit: Team morale is damaged by a leader who not only refuses to admit that he or she is making mistakes, but lashes out at those individuals who dare to disagree. This alienates team members and may even encourage them to not do their best work or quit. Because there is little or no real communication taking place within the team, a mutiny could be brewing and the project manager could be blindsided.

    2. Misleading information: Stakeholders may be misled about a project's progress by this type of PM. While the PM may be managing the plan, he or she is disconnected from the team and may or may not be aware of the real progress (or lack thereof) that is being made. A successfully completed project that solves the wrong problem or no problem at all is not really successful.

    3. Inappropriate roles: The project manager may take on roles that are not appropriate. The role of the PM is to create the project's vision and mission statement. The PM allocates resources, analyzes reports and data and tweaks the course of the project to keep it on target. Executive decisions must be made but the PM must also understand when it is necessary to delegate task responsibility to others and when to retain power. If the project manager tries to be team, stakeholder and PM because of a mistaken belief that he or she can do the job better than everyone else, a project is doomed to failure.

    There are many other ways that such a managerial style can damage a project or a company. Disgruntled employees could bring lawsuits against the company for harassment or abuse. Losing skilled team members means spending time and money to replace and train new employees who may or may not have the same or superior skills as those former employees. Lost stakeholders result in untold financial losses to a company, and they may or may not be replaced by similar or more lucrative accounts.

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    What's the Solution?

    Does the risk of these negative consequences mean that there is no place in project management for an authoritative leadership style? Absolutely not! There is an old adage that says "Fire is a good servant but a poor master." The same can be said for power. A wise project manager needs to know when to use an authoritative voice but at the same time, be willing to listen to and accept constructive feedback from team members and stakeholders. Not making any decisions at all is just as bad as making poor ones, and someone has to step up to the plate and assume the project management role.

    If a hands-on team member spots a risk or project glitch, the PM needs to be secure enough to investigate the situation and determine if there is a real or a perceived risk, and then make the appropriate decision. Good project managers pick their team members carefully and delegate jobs according to the appropriate skill sets. They understand that they are responsible for the big picture details and they have confidence that their subordinates are capable of managing the smaller details to which they have been assigned.

    Keeping the communication channels open and a flow of conversation going both ways is crucial to project success and a good way to stifle any God complex behavior that may try to creep in. Holding meetings regularly and encouraging team members and stakeholders to share their input without fear of reprisal is important. The PM who has a history of having a "hair-trigger temper" or publically berating those who disagree with him or her may need to do some damage control or regain others' trust by showing a change of attitude and behavior.

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    Share Your Experience

    It's never any fun working for someone with a God complex. What has been your experience out in the field? Have you had to deal with this type of individual? How did you handle the situation? What tips could you share?