Working in a cult of personality

Sep 11, 2015

1477789_10152791298915678_4946862984534976341_nInspiration is necessary for technical/design professionals and those who manage projects to be successful.

I watched an outstanding documentary recently on the life of Henry Ford. I learned a lot about him – and heard some of what I already knew, as well – but it got me thinking. He was undoubtedly a genius on some levels and incredibly successful. A “star” in business by any standard. Many of us who are lucky enough to have long careers in the A/E business will at one time or another either work for or with someone who is – like Henry Ford – incredibly charismatic. If you are currently in a situation where you work for a “starchitect” or “starengineer” or some other charismatic (and often egocentric) leader, you know there are pluses – and minuses. It isn’t always easy! It can put you on an emotional roller-coaster, if you let it. Let me give you some advice:
  1. Form relationships/alliances with the people the “star” respects. There are always people whom the star respects. It could be a long-term employee or another partner in the company or a trusted advisor. In any case, you should quickly figure out who these people are and form relationships with them, because you may need one of these people to run interference for you on something critical. The only way that›s going to happen is if you have a relationship with them. So, go see them. Ask them to lunch. Get their advice.
  2. Never directly challenge the star. Ask questions. Provide information. But don’t say “no.” The star will not respond well to a flat refusal to do something. He or she will see that as a personal rejection, and it will be a huge negative for you when it comes to your relationship. Things won’t likely turn out well for you if that happens.
  3. Learn from the star. They’ve got some magic; that’s why they are a star. You may initially be turned off by them and their big ego, but realize they provide you with an outstanding opportunity. Listen. Observe. Figure out how they became the star that they are. This experience could possibly change your life!
  4. Try to forgive their social lapses. They may not introduce you. Or they could forget to give you credit when it’s called for. Or they may just seem rude or aloof. If you let everything bother you, you’ll be likely to snap or otherwise misbehave and deprive yourself of a learning opportunity. And remember, just because someone acts a certain way doesn’t mean they think that way. You have got to be forgiving to work with or for a star.
  5. Figure out what drives them and always keep that front of mind. Is it their legacy? Is it their public image? Is it their need for control? Whatever it is, try to figure that out and then use it as a means to influence the star. Maybe this sounds too manipulative to you? Then, you don’t know how to work with a star!
  6. Show respect – always. Because their egos are big (often fueled by a deep-seated insecurity) – stars need a lot of respect. They may not always see the need to give it back – don’t get me wrong – but you have to give it. If the star wants to be addressed as “Ms. So-and-so,” don’t fight it. If she always needs to sit at the head of the table, plan on it. If he is always 10 minutes late for a meeting, be ready for it.
  7. Don’t cut the star out of the information-flow. He or she really hates being uninformed or caught off-guard. In fact, sometimes he or she may oppose a decision or stop something from happening JUST because he or she wasn’t uninformed and to show that he or she can do it. Paranoia is often part of the star’s personality. Don’t fuel it!
Got any other thoughts on this topic you’d like to share? If so, email me! Mark Zweig is founder and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.