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Harvard Business Online
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When Should You Keep Your Ideas to Yourself?

Harvard Business Online, Marshall Goldsmith print print version

I lead a group of technically and intellectually gifted managers. Although I appreciate their brilliance, their need to constantly display this brilliance can be annoying. Any suggestions?

by Marshall Goldsmith

One of the classic interpersonal challenges I see in brilliant, technically gifted people is their desire to "add value," especially to other people's ideas.

When does this occur?

Imagine that you are an entry-level employee. I am your manager. You come to me with an idea -- which you think is great. You have been working on this idea for months and are really excited about what you have developed. I like the idea.

Rather than just saying, "great idea!" -- being the brilliant, technically gifted person I am, I may well say, "That is a very good idea. Why don't you add this to it?"

This could well be a case of trying to add "too much value," and here's the problem: the quality of the idea may go up 5% with my suggestions, but your commitment to its execution may go down 50%. It is no longer your idea; as your manager, I have now made it my idea.

My good friend, Dr. David Ulrich, taught me that effectiveness of execution is a function of the quality of the idea multiplied by the executor's commitment to make it work. Smart people -- especially engineers or technically gifted professionals -- can get so wrapped up trying to improving quality a little that they may damage commitment a lot.

If we are honest with ourselves, when we start excessively pontificating and trying to add value, we are often not really focused on the quality of the idea at all. We are just trying to prove to the world how smart we really are.

Here are some suggestions to help us, our co-workers, and our direct reports avoid adding "too much value":

1. Before speaking to your direct reports:

- Look into the other person's eyes. Ask yourself, "Will my ‘added value' make this person more - or less - committed to doing a great job?"
- If the answer is "less committed", then ask yourself, "Does the value added by my contribution exceed the loss in commitment by this person?"
- If the answer is "no" - don't comment.

-. Before speaking in team meetings:

- Ask yourself, "Is this comment going to make our team more effective - or is it just intended to prove that I am more clever than my peers?"
- If the answer is that the primary driver of the comment is your own ego, don't say it.

3. Before "adding value" with family members (especially teenagers):

- Ask yourself, "Do these people really care about the ‘sermon' that I am about to deliver - or am I just annoying them?"
- If your sermon is going to go unheeded anyway, don't deliver it.

"Adding too much value" is a classic challenge for smart, successful people. As leaders we need to make a transition from technical expert to developer of people. One of the greatest leaders I know once said, "Achievement was about me. Leadership is about them."

Please send any comments with examples that you know of "adding too much value" or ways to combat this common problem.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith was recently named winner of the Thinkers50 Leadership Award (sponsored by Harvard Business Review) as the world's most influential leadership thinker. Along with being recognized as the #1 leadership thinker, Marshall was listed as the #7 greatest business thinker in the world. What Got You Here Won't Get You There has been listed as a top ten business best seller for the year. MOJO was listed at #19. This is the second year in a row that it has been in the top twenty.

 

 

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith


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