Ego Check – Is Yours or Someone Else’s Out of Control?

A multibillion dollar project is going bad. The designs aren’t right, industrial issues are causing angst, they’re already over budget and falling further behind the schedule. The company decides it’s time to bring in the big gun – the “Fixer”.

Initially everyone is excited the “Fixer” is here. They’re going to save this project and get us back on track. On arrival the “Fixer” receives a fanfare and is given wide licence in their decisions, tactics and behaviours. After all, they’re the fixer, they know what they’re doing.

However after a few weeks the shine of the “fixer” starts to wear off. They’ve made decisions without considering what has occurred in the past, they haven’t consulted with other departments and have put many people (including their own team members) off side.

Yet rather than accept the offers of assistance the person becomes angry, more staunch in their views, arrogant in their communications and highly judgemental of others. They appear unwilling (or unaware) to admit things are failing.

In the world of psychology this is referred to as the “God Complex”.

The term God Complex was popularised in the early part of the twentieth century by the early psychotherapists (Ernest Jones, Sigmund Freud). Whilst not a clinical term if began to be used to describe individuals who were highly egotistical, arrogant, judgemental, believed they were infallible, showed a need to control situations and others, and always needed to have the final say.

Unsurprisingly these characteristics are not be great for business; particularly a business who wants to be responsive to changing markets, innovative and challenge the status quo.

So how do you avoid creating mini “Gods” in your business and how do you manage someone if you suspect they may be verging into “God” like behaviour.

Set the cultural expectation. Clearly state (through words, symbols and processes) the expectations of everyone in your organisation, project or team. Everyone must be clear on how they are expected to behave and perform. If your “God” is acting outside of these expectations it is imperative you re-align them. You can acknowledge their skill at being a “fixer-upper”, but that their methods must be in line with the organisational values.

Draw their attention to it. Often the “God” is unaware of their behaviour and the impact they’re having on the team and business. Sit them down and have a frank conversation with specific examples of where their behaviour is inappropriate. Whilst it is likely they will challenge you, question your observations and provide “evidence” to counteract your comments, you must be prepared to remain resolute about your observations and reinforce your expectations.

Manage the ego. We all have ego, but a “Gods” ego will be large. To ensure they don’t switch off to your comments, balance your corrective/re-alignment conversation with a little stroke to their ego. A strategy you can use is drawing the conversation towards the developmental. For example “”God”, I know you can succeed in this role, but right now I’m not seeing the right behaviours which will lead to success. Let’s discuss strategies on how we’re going to get you to that success.”

Support them to lose. Get them to recognise that other people’s ideas are just as valid as theirs and that sometimes it’s strategically useful to let others “win”. A “God” may be unaware of these relationship/influence tactics and may need your direction. Discuss the bigger relationship picture, set actionable tasks which require them to consult with others and on occasion step in to overrule a challenge they’re doggedly trying to win. Explain to them the reason why you’ve done this.

Get them a coach. “Gods” can be difficult to manage. Sometimes an external practitioner can be the catalyst to create a change in their behaviour. This external coach is unbiased, impartial and potentially less threatening to a “God”. They are trained to deal with difficult individuals, to challenge their thinking and change their behaviour. This is their bread and butter, enabling you to re-allocate your focus back on the business at hand.

So that’s how you can manage someone with a “God Complex”, but what if that “God” is actually…. YOU (gasp!).

All of us have a tendency to feel a little “Godly” from time to time. Particularly those of us who are driven, ambitious and assertive. So what can we do to temper this characteristic to ensure we don’t fall into the “God Complex” trap?

Improve your Self Awareness. You can achieve this through a variety of means, including the use of quality psychometric instruments, 360 feedback reviews, coaching and thought logs. Ensure you undertake a quality psychometric test that has been rigorously tested and validated (if you’d like recommendations please send me an email). A thought log is also used to capture your daily thoughts, review them at a later date with more impartiality and enable you to identify themes in your thinking. This is a tool used by many successful leaders and is a completely “no cost” way of gaining insight into what makes you tick.

Ask others opinions before voicing yours. Seems simple in theory, but as any extrovert will know, is extremely difficult in practice. “Godly” individuals are more likely to force their opinions quickly before taking in the opinions of others. Making a conscious effort to ask at least 2-3 other people their opinions before offering your own is a good way to change your natural impulse. However this will only work if you follow step 3.

Listen. Not just appear like you’re listening, but really listening to what someone is saying. When we listen to others speak, most of us are busy thinking of how we’re going to reply, rather than taking on board the words and messages they are communicating. This means we miss subtle cues (body language, tone intonations, eye movements) that provide a fuller picture of the message. This can lead us to form conclusions and responses which only consider a fraction of the message, leaving us open to misunderstandings and mistakes.

Look for the benefit. Many of us are selfish beings concerned about our individualistic pursuits and goals. Apparently, this individualism is ingrained in our Australian culture ( but it doesn’t necessarily make it right or useful when we’re trying to achieve the best outcome. Therefore you might need to play a little mind game on yourself. Rather than thinking your way is right and others are wrong, start to look at how other people’s opinions can actually benefit your own perspective. Your mind is now enquiring, rather than judgemental.

Stop the Judgement. This underpins all of the above. Judging others is often at the root of why we do not listen or value other people’s opinions. By valuing our own perspectives above others we miss out on the benefit that diversity can bring, often limiting the potential of our business, project or team. Recognise your own biases, learn to be comfortable with people different to yourself and be curious about their perspectives and ideas.

I’d love to hear your experiences with the “God Complex”, or if you would like more information on how to change the behaviour of yourself or another person with this perspective, contact me at


Post written by Teagan Dowler, Capability Manager at STS Consulting Australia