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.