Peacocks are the worst type of sponsors. No-one can counsel a Peacock: they will not accept feedback or advice. But are there some advantages of working with someone whose behaviour stresses you out?
Indicators from my on-going research from sponsors, governance groups and project professionals highlight these traits of Peacock sponsors:
- Co-workers describe them as “narcissistic psychopaths”, i.e. it is all about them all the time. They don’t have any empathy or people skills.
- When you call them out on their bad behaviour, they a) don’t apologise, and b) make the problem all about you and your shortcomings
- They see “Red” status on a project report – e.g. that something may be late or over budget – as a bad thing. Rather than viewing “Red” as an issue that needs their attention, they view that as a negative reflection on themselves and end up attacking the reporter.
In the long term, the impact of this behaviour creates issues for the project team, and the Peacock’s leadership team as energy is spent on conflict resolution rather than on problem-solving and project delivery.
However, in the short term, they can bring some advantages. Consider these real-life examples from the project trenches:
- Peacocks don’t “go along to get along”. A Peacock’s critical nature can force teams into deeper thinking to justify pushing forward an initiative. They can be valuable in critical
questioning of ideas and business cases.
- A Peacock’s style of questioning encourages rigour and clean data and reporting.
- When Peacocks are consistently aggressive towards a team, the teams come closer together, marshalled against a common enemy.
One Peacock who exhibited all these behaviours was a delegate sponsor on a successful major compliance project. Although documentation and reporting took a lot longer than comparable projects, the data was spot on and the team were across all the risks and issues with ready answers. The project team camaraderie was excellent and two members of the team were always ready to confront the sponsor and protect the rest of the team as needed.
Long term, Peacocks are harmful to a team and an organisation. The stress they cause from their behaviour forces people to protect themselves 24/7. This stress inhibits innovation and transformation. And they need to be contained to limit the havoc they can wreak. The Peacock on the compliance project did not get their desired promotion and was eventually moved out of the organisation.
While they are around, how can you use the Peacocks in your life more effectively?
Perhaps you can do some ego-stroking and ask for their opinion on a business case that needs more critical evaluation. You might be surprised at the result!
Here’s to more courageous sponsors in the world – our curious Ducks, effective Eagles and wise Owls.