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Marking Your Territory

Many managers are like my dog. They are perpetually compelled to leave their mark for others to admire or fear. Someone comes up with an idea and wham! they’ve got an improvement. They add value everywhere. And they undermine their success. Because sometimes you can add the most value by saying nothing.

I love my dog, but she drives me crazy. Whenever we walk, she needs to stop and sniff every tree and bush, then leave her own comment on the situation. Like most managers I’ve worked with.

Marshall Goldsmith calls this “adding too much value.” It’s an expression of the need to win, to demonstrate superior wisdom or experience. They want to own the solution by remaking it in their own image.

And usually it works…at the micro level. Most leaders can improve most ideas they encounter by 5% or 10%. The trouble is, at the macro level, they are undermining their organizations. Whoever brought them the idea hears this subliminal message: “You are not as good as me. You will never be as good as me. Why do you bother trying?”

They lose the sense of ownership of their idea. They lose motivation. And they stop trying. That way, they can tell themselves, “Sure he came up with a better idea, but I didn’t really try too hard.”

So the leader has improved an idea and weakened his organization. The people who surround him, over time, become less engaged.

The alternative, of course, is to acknowledge ideas, express appreciation, and stay out of the way. Don’t mark every idea as your territory. Cede ownership to others. Then glory in their success.

I keep telling my dog, “The whole world is yours! Why do you keep trying to mark your territory?” But she won’t listen.

How about you? Which do you value more, getting things done or getting credit for the things that get done?

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4 Responses to “Marking Your Territory”

  1. Bing Chou says:

    This post resonated with me in two ways:

    1) I and many I have know have experienced this with managers that we’ve worked with. The comments, no matter how constructive, can take the wind out of the sails very quickly – we all know how important enthusiasm for and ownership of an idea are.

    2) Looking in the mirror, I’ve been guilty of this myself on many occasions, but hadn’t realized it until reading this post. Time to make a change.

    Thanks for the insight, as usual.

  2. Mark P. Friedman says:

    Good to hear from you, Bing. I had the same reaction when I ran across this idea: time to make a change, listen more, say less. As a lifelong “add a lot of value” guy, it has not been an easy transition, but very worthwhile.

  3. I am a leader by nature, and I’ll be the first to admit that adding value is something I’m definitely good at. I don’t think there is anything wrong with adding value to an idea or project if that added value will bring more success. I do agree there are many individuals out there who like to take credit for everything and are always stealing the limelight.
    They have something to prove ALL the time. I think a good manager knows when to add value, and when to fall back and let another member of the team shine!

    • mpfriedman says:

      Melissa – thanks for dropping by! I agree that there are times when leaders must intervene and “add value.” The point, though, is when in doubt, don’t. Be aware of the broader context: by improving the current project, you may be demotivating a talented colleague or subordinate. Often, allowing someone else to feel full ownership of a B+ project gains more long term benefit than trying to make the project an A.

      Hope to see you on the blog again soon!

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