Leaders, Are You Adding Too Much Value?

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Leaders, Are You Adding Too Much Value?

memphis • 9.4.20

In his excellent book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, author and executive coach extraordinaire, Marshall Goldsmith presents a list of twenty performance disruptors that, if left unattended, can derail or diminish a leader’s career. An “oldie but a goody” the book is often required reading for my coaching clients for the purpose of targeting our efforts.

One of the listed ‘derailers’ that clients frequently encounter is what Goldsmith terms, “Adding Too Much Value.” Specifically, he’s talking about leaders, often very senior people who tend to stand out more  in small to mid-size organizations, very powerful by virtue of position and intellect, and who have a habit, a felt need perhaps, to weigh in with their thoughts on just about any (and every) question, discussion, or break in the action. Though their contributions are often on point, the manner and frequency with which they are injected can create the same effect as having a very large person suddenly stepping into a very small boat. And the smaller the boat, the more displacement that person takes.

Input Becomes Orders

As Goldsmith points out, we must be mindful of the fact that, the higher up the ladder we go, the more our suggestions and ideas become orders, gospel, by virtue of which the thinking and participation of others is effectively shut down. Contrary to what we see from some public officeholders (I bet you can think of one), leadership is not about YOU. Rather, it’s about the team and the mission. You needn’t constantly demonstrate, let alone tell anyone how smart you are. If you’re smart, they’ll figure it out. And, if you insist on doing all the thinking, and consuming all the oxygen, they’re gonna let you do it because after all, you’re the boss. So, do you really want to be the only one who goes home at night with a headache, or would you rather share the load and the spotlight a bit?

Those of us who worked at FedEx in its very early days had the pleasure of working alongside company founder, Fred Smith, an exceptionally bright, powerful, and considerate person. You couldn’t help but learn in that environment, where every week was like a semester of grad school. Before going further, I would hasten to point out that he did not suffer from adding too much value. Anyhow, over time it was interesting to watch how some managers and execs would put some extra oomph on their announcement of particularly unpopular decisions or work direction by casually introducing Mr. Smith into an argument or proclamation with the use of two words: “Fred said”, which magically eliminated any back talk or disparate thought, because nobody wanted to disappoint the guy who gave birth to that whole thing. Over time, that expression was shortened to a single-word, two syllable expression, “FredSed” that was heard a lot, too much in fact. One day, at a meeting of officers and managing directors, Jim Barksdale, then C.O.O. called us out on it, commenting to the effect that: “ My office is right next to Fred’s, and we spend a lot of time together, more some days than either of us might like, but I can assure you that Fred hasn’t said half the stuff that’s blamed on him.” Message sent. Don’t be a “big-foot”, and don’t throw big-foot’s name around in vane.

Silence is more than OK. Say More By Saying Less.

Weliveinaworldwherepeopleactasifafewsecondsofsilenceisamortalsin. (Reading that sentence wasn’t fun, was it?) Not unlike spaces between words of text, pauses serve a purpose, yet they are often seen as wasted dead air that someone needs to harness and put to use. We see it on television when popular, highly acclaimed news anchors are so concerned with squeezing more word content into the available space that they chronically overtalk their guests (blame it on the satellite), and begin to stutter badly as their brains outrun their mouths. Just stop it, you’re not getting paid by the word!

Often, when coaching on job interview technique, clients, who want to improve their batting average for that next job admit that, occasionally, when in the throes of an interview situation their thoughts get jumbled while their mouths are in mid-sentence, creating a dis-jointed response which is terrifying to them. Often, the best advice I can give them is to have some idea of what they’re going to say before opening their mouth. Don’t fear a few seconds of silence. The interviewer isn’t going to think ill of you if you do that, and you’re not going to get points deducted for failing to instantly puke out an answer to every question. In fact, demonstration of some real listening usually accrues to your advantage, whether in an interview or regular conversation with your team.

Goldsmith points out that “Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing.” My wife has taught me that, too. At other times, simply saying, “I don’t know, what do you think?” Or, “Before I weigh in, I’d like to hear your thoughts” can be exactly what’s needed. It’s good for you and the people around you. In a similar vein, we needn’t weigh in on, let alone win every argument.

Want Better Business Outcomes? Give people their work back.

If any more incentive is needed to get you to consider a behavior change, consider Goldsmith’s formula that weighs the combined effect of Idea Quality (QI) and Commitment (C) on Effectiveness of Execution (EE). As he expresses it:

EE = QI x C.  (Effectiveness of Execution = Quality of the Idea TIMES the Commitment.)

Ergo, B- Ideas with A+ Commitment can outperform A Ideas with C commitment.

In short, too often we reduce our team’s Commitment by adding too much value (our thoughts & ideas) into the mix. 

If you’ve got a trusted associate or coach you might ask them if this is something that you should pay attention to. Then, listen intently to what they say, as well as what they aren’t saying.

Stay relevant.

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