In conversation with a CEO, he shared, “there are real personality clashes on my executive team. It’s very tiring. I’ve had each one of them in my office complaining about the others.”

Sound familiar? 

If isolation has done anything, it’s made people stuff problems worse. Maybe at first people could sweep things under the carpet in favour of dealing with the urgent pandemic response.

Then when the team adjusted, old wounds opened. 

As a CEO, this is frustrating. The parent-child dynamic is NOT something we want in our role. We want our executive teams to be adults, independent, capable of resolving their own issues. Diversity is good for a team. Differences are also good – creating robust discussions. But personality clashes? Sheesh.

Here’s the thing.

Thinking the issues are personality clashes is the biggest mistake you can make.

If we assume conflict is personality based, we can default to feeling helpless. Who can or wants to change personality? We can’t and don’t want to. So are we doomed to prickly interactions?

No, because the issues are not often personality based.

When we dig under the surface, what causes people problems are systems, not personality.

As a CEO, here’s what you can do:

  • Look in the mirror. If they can’t raise issues with each other, what are you doing to create a process for challenging behaviours and interactions safely?
  • Look at your systems. Clashes often arise because of the systems in place for promotions, remuneration and recognition. Are the systems pitting your team members against one another instead of building cohesion and collaboration?
  • Look at triggers. Poor behaviour is often a sign of one of the Four Devils of People Stuff emerging. It’s an old primal response to one of these fears: fear of loss in general, loss of power, loss of place, loss of position, and loss of productivity. Do you need to allay some fears rather than pander to personality?

Before we throw up our hands in resignation roll up your sleeves instead to do a little digging below the surface.


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  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.