Even the smartest bosses are prone to a management mistake that makes everyone's job harder
- A boss can be completely unaware of how much influence they have over their team.
- That's according to executive coaches Marshall Goldsmith and Dennis Perkins.
- Goldsmith and Perkins say a boss' suggestions can be interpreted as orders, and employees are always watching their boss for signs of approval or disapproval.
Marshall Goldsmith calls it "adding too much value."
Often, he said, an employee will come to their boss with an idea and the boss will make a casual suggestion for improvement.
The problem? A boss' suggestions are perceived as orders.
As one CEO client told Goldsmith, "If [the suggestions] are smart, they're orders. If they're stupid, they're orders. If I want them to be orders, they're orders. If I don't want them to be orders, they're orders anyway."
So while the boss may forget about the suggestion they shared, the employee may drive themselves crazy trying to implement it.
That same CEO shared with Goldsmith the strategy he used to prevent this situation: "Before I speak, I just breathe and ask myself one question: Is it worth it?" At least half the time, the CEO realised it wasn't absolutely necessary to share his thoughts.
Dennis Perkins, the CEO of leadership consultancy The Syncretics Group, mentioned something similar. "Leaders are sometimes completely oblivious to the extent to which people observe them and look for signs of reinforcement or disagreement," he said.
An employee might present an idea, or share feedback on someone else's, and watch the boss' face to see how they react.
"It can be very subtle," Perkins added. But the boss' reaction "can send a message." One such message — say, if the boss looks surprised when someone dissents from the majority — is that people who "take contrarian positions" are unwelcome.
The solution here is less simple, but it comes down to at least verbally expressing — and believing — that you're open to all kinds of opinions.
"Obviously you can't have negative people all the time, popping every balloon," Perkins said. "But unless [bosses] are willing to hear the truth, they're not going to stay grounded in reality."
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