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Adding Too Much Value: What Smart Leaders Need to Learn – By Linda Cureton

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Author: Linda Cureton, CEO of Muse Technology & Former CIO of NASA

This is the second of a series of blogs reflecting on some thoughts from the Marshall Goldsmith book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful.  In this book, he describes twenty habits that successful leaders need to shake.  Bad Habit #2 is “Adding Too Much Value.”

This annoying little habit is displayed by the boss who always has to add his or her own 2¢.  Perhaps this is a boss that doesn’t leave good enough alone.  They have already made a judgment about what you’re presenting and have discovered new and clever ways of making it even better.

(My $100 idea) + (Your 2¢) = 48¢

One of my favorite examples comes from a colleague who was tasked with moving a data center.  With his team, he developed a comprehensive approach to moving the data center in 18 months.  The plan accounted for contingencies, risks, and innovations.  As anyone who has ever moved a data center knows, it doesn’t get better than that.

However, his boss wanted to add value and asked for the schedule to be accelerated and completed in 12 months.  My friend had to toss all of his preparation and risk mitigation and hit the ground running.  They got the data center moved in 24 months.

It was easy to see in this example that the boss didn’t benefit from the knowledge acquired during risk management.  Sometimes we mistake “smart” for “lucky”.  The fact that things didn’t go wrong doesn’t necessarily mean we are smart, but it could mean that we are lucky.  Moreover, my friend felt devalued and had to shake the urge to pad his schedule estimates with a “smart boss tax”.

“… (The) higher up you go in the organization, the more you need to make other people winners and not make it about winning yourself.” – Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You There Won’t Get You There

What smart bosses need to learn is exemplified by my algebra student.  I’m tutoring him and what makes him so difficult to teach sometimes, is that he is so smart.  He guesses a lot and gets the right answer.  This only confirms in his mind that his guesses are accurate.  How do you tell someone who is almost always right that he “might” be wrong one day?

The answer is that I don’t need to teach algebra, I need to teach humility.  So, for smart bosses who want to hone their leadership skills, there is no need to shut your mouth and allow things to go wrong.  We need to shut our egos and let things go right.

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