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Mind of a Bajan

The impact of ego on management

The events of the past week have demonstrated more than ever how human behaviour impacts on the performance of the organisation. Take for instance, the recent performances of the West Indies cricket team. Many people, including my neighbour, are of the view that bad decisions by leaders can result in the destruction of an organisation.

This, together with the debacle at one of our leading schools, have reinforced more than ever how decisions made by leaders can attempt to and often times succeed in creating difficulties for those in the organisation. These situations beg the question: Why do individuals in leadership/management positions make such fundamental errors? The response could be summed up in one word “ego”.

The article this week is about the impact of the ego/ egocentrism on the behaviour of humans.

The first psychologist to propose the word ego was Sigmund Freud who was of the view that our personality has three components, the id, ego and super ego. Some years later Piaget introduced the term egocentrism to explain one of the stages of cognitive development in children.

Let me begin with Freud, he was of the view that the human personality was divided into three segments as described before. In describing the id he explained that in addition to being present at birth it unconsciously controls our instincts and other primitive behaviour like desires for instant gratification.

One example provided is an infant crying and demanding food when it is hungry and would not be satisfied until gratification is provided in the form of food/milk. In Freud’s view the id operated according to the pleasure principle which means that we would grab what we desire since we are unable to wait for it.

However, we need some form of balance in life so Freud explained that after about six months another part of our personality emerges this he called the ego. According to him, the ego appears after the organism has had some experience with its environment that enables it to realise that it must be practical, logical, and act in a socially acceptable manner.

Therefore, instead of demanding instant gratification the organism would now wait for dinnertime to eat dinner and so on thereby behaving in a manner that would appropriately reduce impulses. In other words the ego is the disciplinarian who ensures that the id is kept in check at all times.

The final component of personality is the superego this emerges by the time the organism reaches age five. This component of the personality is mainly responsible for reinforcing the values that parents and society have instilled in it. Values such as standards, codes of conduct, cultural rules, guidelines, thoughts and fantasies all originate from this element of the personality.

According to the theory, this section also produces guilty feelings especially if we do or think something wrong or it can reward us with good feelings when have lived up to the required standards.

Before we move on to what this has to do with managers, let us look at Piaget’s egocentrism theory. Piaget argued that during the preoperational stage of cognitive development children are unable to understand that events occurring in the world appear differently to different people. He felt that this inability to see other person’s viewpoints occurred around three years of age but by age four it changes to a more objective perspective.

Now let us look at the two scenarios in the opening vignette. It appears to me that given what Freud pointed out about the id focusing only on wants, desires and needs and not considering what the ego says is part of the problem with some personalities in management positions.

These individuals seem to be driven by their need for gratification to such an extent that there is no consideration for others in society/organisation/community. Their egos seem unable to delay gratification and as such their impulses control their behaviour which results in overall poor organisational performance.

You may now ask what has this to do with management. The failure to see the world from different perspectives seems to be a vital failing of managers and supervisors and this is increasingly becoming a problem. Such behaviour impacts negatively on the decision making process. Managers must wherever possible strive to ensure that they consider employees’, players’ and colleagues’ perspective before making decisions that could be a threat to the organisation’s continued success.

If managers would consider that other people have different experiences and hence can view and understand a problem in different ways they would make decisions that would increase the competitive advantage of the organisation instead of the reverse. Hopefully, calmer heads will prevail in the case of the school and in the case of the “Windies” it is hoped that they will recover soon — welcome back Chris Gale!!. Until next time….

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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