‘No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness’ – Aristotle.
True, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’, but there are a four ‘I’s in ‘individuality’, and it is the contributions of talented individuals which enables teams and organisations excel. So why do we love to hate personalities with big egos?
Typical remarks go along the lines that he or she is outspoken, selfish, disruptive, undermining of authority or just an all-round prat. Or all of the above. History shows us that the very best teams and organisations have always been able to rely on the services of a maverick; someone who is destructive inside and outside of their field of work, but can adapt to any given situation and take it by the scruff of the neck.
Greatness and madness are often indistinguishable facets of someone who excels at what they do. Time and again, these big egos deliver; as their contributions cannot be discounted, it is incumbent upon those managing teams to manage these personalities effectively to ensure everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.
Let’s take the example of Kevin Pietersen’s unceremonious sacking from the England Cricket Team. If you don’t know about KP-gate, you’re either incapable of using the Internet properly, or you’re not following Piers Morgan on Twitter. So why has England’s statistically best batsman been banned from playing for his country? Nobody knows, because the England Cricket Board (ECB) is run even more incompetently than Liverpool FC’s Transfer Committee.
Pietersen, or more affably known as KP, was sacked following a disastrous Ashes series in 2013/14 for ‘cricketing reasons’, despite being the team’s top scorer. Make no mistake, KP, like his savoury snack namesake, is nuts. He has had his fair share of run-ins with the cricketing establishment; but for the decade or so before discarding him for good, England consistently managed to keep him in the team, and it paid dividends, yielding a T20 World Cup and a rise to Number 1 in the Test rankings.
The main accusation is that he is ‘unmanageable’ – he wasn’t unmanageable for the 10 years before that when everything was going hunky-dory, so what changed? Weak management. In any team environment, it seems facile to label someone as ‘unmanageable’. Rather, branding Pietersen as unmanageable is a damning indictment on the ECB management: in any other scenario, a manager who can’t manage would be shown the door. In his formative years, KP played under the captaincy of Michael Vaughan, who was a brilliant man-manager. Current captain Alastair Cook does not even come close.
Dr Lisa Matthewman, Principal Lecturer in Occupational and Organisational Psychology at the University of Westminster, cites professional jealousy as a factor that leads to the marginalisation of certain members within a team. Many of KP’s international colleagues (and the ECB) were dismayed at the fact that he was securing lucrative contracts to play in overseas domestic competitions such as the Indian Premier League (IPL), as the start of the international season would clash with the latter stages of the IPL. English players didn’t need that experience because they were supposedly good enough…
Look at us now – a second rate international team who now allows their players to participate in the IPL as it will provide them with greater experiences to develop their game. Not only was KP shunted from the team for wanting to develop himself for the benefit of England, he was right. Life works in funny ways.
Without doubt, having a strong sense of camaraderie and team spirit is invaluable, particularly when the chips are down. However, the overriding objective is to be successful – would you rather play in a team of losers who get on like a house on fire or a successful team with a few difficult characters? Professionalism stipulates that the latter approach is preferable; nobody remembers the losers, unless you’re Ed Miliband. Whether you go to school, university or work, you’d be lying if you said if you were everybody’s best mate. Ultimately, you’re there to be successful.
Big egos are part of what makes certain people tick. Provided they perform to the best of their ability, strong management is required to ensure these personalities are accommodated because it will ultimately be worth it.
By Kamran Khan