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Coaching Leadership

Adding too much value

A classic problem that almost every successful and competent leader has is this overwhelming desire to add their two cents to every discussion. And I mean every-single-discussion. It’s damn irritating. I know because I used to be one of them.

The challenge with accomplished leaders (and you will see a lot of this among military and armed-forces leaders) is that they don’t know when to stop adding value. They primarily rose through the ranks because they became exceptionally good at adding value that positively impacted their company’s bottom line consistently. Naturally, people around them come to respect their opinion until the point their relentless need to add value to every damn discussion become a liability.

If you look a little deeper, you will realize that the root of the issue is listening. Successful people have a hard time listening to other folks about something that they already know. In their mind, they think that (a) I already knew that, and (b) I know a better way. So, they end up running the show, which they’re so comfortable doing, but at the expense of their team’s development.

Of course, you don’t do that intentionally. If you’re leading a team, you are a high performer, and it’s natural to have opinions on how people should approach work. Giving answers and solving problems makes you feel valuable.

So, let’s say Jane from your team shares a great idea with you. You might add, “Hey, Jane, that’s a great idea!” you say, “that’s a good one, Jane; however, I think it will be better if you…” It’s a normal response on your part. You’re doing your job. And I’m pretty sure you will feel great (powerful?) about saving Jane from a massive disaster (in your mind).

But you miss the fact that you’ve deflated her enthusiasm along with her commitment to execute the idea. What you have now is an idea that’s 5-10% better in quality left with someone who’s commitment is less than 50%, thanks to you. Why? Because it’s no longer her idea, but yours.

As a leader, it’s essential to recognize that the higher you go in an organization, the less you speak and the more you need to make other people winners than making it all about yourself. Nobody cares if you win. But everyone would if your team does. And the only person getting in the way is you!

Here’s a great suggestion by Marshall Goldsmith, “If you find yourself saying, “Great idea,” and following it with “But,” or “However,” try cutting your response off at “idea.” Even better, before you speak, take a breath and ask yourself if what you’re about to say is worth it. You may realize that you have more to gain by not winning (adding value)!”

I know what you’re thinking — “Sunil, I don’t think people in my team can contribute with the same quality and intent that I can.” You may be correct, but it’s dangerous to assume that’s the case. Every team out there brings with it a unique set of perspective that’s powerful enough to impact your organization positively. You need to facilitate and see how best you can extract their collective brilliance.

Use the following tips I picked up from Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here, Will Not Get You There.”

1. Take a breath. Before you fill a conversation gap or add two cents to a comment, pause, take a breath, and ask yourself if the room can live without your commentary. Consider that someone else may be gearing up to offer their thoughts, and let them do it.

2. Ask questions. How do you draw out those comments? Ask! Questions open up the room and invite engagement. Also, make it clear that you value your team’s input, which allows your people to be creative. Try one of these:

“If we had no fiscal or resource restrictions, what could we accomplish?”

“How does this idea impact your area?”

“What does everyone think of that thought?”

“What could we gain by incorporating this idea?”

“If you were in my shoes, what information would you need to decide?”

3. “Run with that.” When someone offers an idea, tell them to go with it, expound on the thought and elaborate. Not only does it encourage thorough thinking, but it teaches the contributor how to make a case in public and defend it.

Monitor your encouragement, and the next time you find yourself saying it’s a “great idea,” stop yourself at “idea.”