Tuesday, October 16, 2007


In an effort to add value, sometimes leaders do damage. Pastor especially need to learn to be quiet. Just because you know something doesn't mean you need to say something. Listen to the words of leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won't Get You There:

The two men at dinner were clearly on the same wavelength. One of them was Jon Katzenbach, the ex-McKinsey director who now leads his own elite consulting boutique. The other fellow was Niko Canner, his brilliant protege and partner. They were plotting out a new venture. But something about their conversation was slightly off. Every time Niko floated an idea, Katzenbach interrupted him. "That's a great idea," he would say, "but it would work better if you...." and then he would trail off into a story about how it worked for him several years earlier in another context. When Jon finished, Niko would pick up where he left off only to be interrupted within seconds by Jon again. This went on back and forth like a long rally at Wimbledon.

As the third party at the table, I watched and listened. As an executive coach, I'm used to monitoring people's dialogues, listening with forensic intensity for clues to reveal why these otherwise accomplished people annoy their bosses, peers and subordinates.

Ordinarily I keep quiet in these situations. But Jon was a friend exhibiting classic destructive smart-person behavior. I said, "Jon, will you please be quiet and let Niko talk. Stop trying to add value to the discussion."

What Jon was displaying in full flower was a variation on the need to win - the need to add value. It's common among leaders used to running the show. They still retain remnants of the top-down management style where their job was to tell everyone what to do. These leaders are smart enough to realize that the world has changed, that most of the their subordinates know more in specific areas than they ever will. But old habits die hard. It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something they already know without communicating somehow that a) "we already knew that" and b) "we know a better way."

That's the problem with adding too much value. Imagine you're the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, "Great idea!" your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say, "Good idea, but it'd be better if you tried it this way."

The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you've reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you've taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea - and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in. That's the fallacy of added value. Whatever we gain in the form of a better idea is lost many times over in our employees' diminished commitment to the concept.....

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that bosses have to zip their lips to keep their staff's spirits from sagging. But the higher up you go in the organization, the more you need to make other people winners and not make it about winning yourself.

For bosses this means closely monitoring how you hand out encouragement. If you find yourself saying, "Great idea," and then dropping the other shoe with a tempering "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. One of my clients, who's now the CEO of a major pharmaceutical, said that once he got into the habit of taking a breath before he talked, he realized that at least half of what he was going to say wasn't worth saying. Even though he believed he could add value, he realized he had more to gain by not winning....

Asking "Is it worth it?" forces you to consider what the other person will feel after hearing your response. It forces you to play at least two moves ahead. Not many people do that. You talk. They talk. And so on - back and forth like a beginner's chess game where no one thinks beyond the move in front of them. It's the lowest form of chess, it's also the lowest grade of listening. Asking, "It is worth it?" engages you in thinking beyond the discussion to consider a) how the other person regards you, b) what that person will do afterwards, and c) how that person will behave the next time you talk.

That's a lot of consequences emanating out of "Is it worth it?".....

People's opinion of our listening ability are largely shaped by the decisions we make immediately after asking "Is it worth it?" Do we speak or shut up? Do we argue or simply say "Thank you"? Do we add our needless two cents or bite our tongue? Do we rate the comments or simply acknowledge them?....

The implications of "Is it worth it?" are profound - and go beyond listening. If effect you are taking the age-old question of self-interest, "What's in it for me?" one step further to ask, "What's in it for him?" That's a profound consequential leap of thought. Suddenly you're seeing the bigger picture.

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