November 14, 2004

Hey Wait a Minute, That's Me in the "Before" Picture

In Adding Value -- but at What Cost? Marshall Goldsmith distills a useful prescription out of a recent conversation:

In my experience, one of the most common challenges that successful people face is a constant need to win. When the issue is important, they want to win. When the issue is trivial, they want to win. Even when the issue isn't worth the effort or is clearly to their disadvantage, they still want to win.

Research shows that the more we achieve, the more we tend to want to "be right." At work meetings, we want our position to prevail. In arguments, we pull out all the stops to come out on top. Even at supermarket checkouts, we scout other lines to see if there's one that's moving faster.

In Jon's case, he was displaying a variation on the need to win: adding too much value. It's particularly common among smart people. They may retain remnants of a top-down management style even if they don't want to. These leaders are smart enough to realize that most of their subordinates know more in specific areas than they ever will, but old habits die hard. It's difficult for them to listen to others disclose information without communicating either that they already knew about it or that they know a better way.

The problem is, while they may have improved the idea by 5%, they've reduced the employee's commitment to executing it by 30%, because they've taken away that person's ownership of the idea. Therein lies the fallacy of added value: Whatever is gained in the form of a better idea may be lost six times over in the employee's diminished enthusiasm for the concept.

It can be painful to see yourself in the "before picture" of an advice column, and this one points how you can fool yourself by cleverly reframing "winning" as "adding value" and be just as obnoxious and counter-productive. I guess that's the difference between my 20's and my 40's. In my 20's I believed that I was held back by the people around me (typically managers) and situations I found my myself, now I see that it's mainly my own actions/inactions that hold me back.

Posted by Sean Murphy at November 14, 2004 10:57 PM | School/Education