Saturday, November 25, 2017

Accidental Diminisher: Idea Guy

Recently I listened again to a talk by one of the authors of Multipliers, Liz Wiseman. [Author's note: much of this was posted earlier.] She and her partner had studied what distinguishes the leaders in organizations to which people are giving nearly all of their intellectual effort from those leaders where people are barely putting forth half of their effort. Most managerial and leadership characteristics are similar in both sets, but they found 5 distinguishing areas. Those distinctions created twice the level of effort in their teams! In the high-performing organizations, they were led by Multipliers--those that surround themselves with great people and try to make them greater. Multipliers have flavors like talent magnet, liberator, challenger, debate maker (in the sense of making ideas better) and investor.

On the other side are the Diminishers--empire builder, tyrant, know-it-all, decision maker, micro-manager. They found lots of evidence that people's performance actually decreases when they work for a diminisher, by 50%. They seem to lose capabilities and know-how that they once had and exhibited. Their apathy also increases around a Diminisher.

I know the phenomenon because I've done great work for a Multiplier and struggled through a Diminisher's tenure. What was most surprising and caused some reflection on my own leadership style is that there are "accidental diminishers". They don't cause as much harm, but they're still not getting the best from everyone. I've been one or more kinds of Accidental Diminishers: the idea guy (so many ideas people can't keep up and figure out which are the priorities), the always-on guy (never a break), rescuer (his people are 'just not good enough'), pacesetter (creating quitters and spectators because the standard is too high or the leader is too far in front), rapid responder (first to speak, first to determine the direction) and the optimist ('how hard can this be' is condescending).

Can leaders change the culture? Maybe, maybe not. They definitely can change the level of engagement and the feeling that doing your best is worth it, recognizable and means something to the others. A healthy and functional culture might survive a Diminisher if the others feel strongly about maintaining what they have had. If not, the tyrant or micro-manager will win, and everyone else loses.

But one leadership change can change the culture: when the leader changes his/her own behavior. As an Idea Guy, if I change the way I interact with my team, I can get more out of them. Instead of telling them the ideas, what if I followed Wiseman's advice and went into a mode of asking questions all the time? Instead of saying, "We need to get the project done by doing...." I could ask, "What will help us regain progress on our project in order to meet the deadline?" "What will you need to help make that happen?" "Who else can you collaborate with?" "What decisions need to be made and by whom?" One thing I've learned as I got certified as a coach is that often people already have the answers they need. They just need to give themselves permission to move forward, to make progress, to contribute significantly...and we as managers often need to get out of the way. (By the way, if you can track down the audio or video to her talk, she gives an excellent example to switching to extreme questioning with her young children around the bedtime routine.)

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