One of the coaching world’s leading figures and great contributors is Marshall Goldsmith. Multiple coaching frameworks and concepts we rely on today as coaches can be traced back to him, and he is still quoted and respected internationally. One of the first coaching books I read was Goldsmith’s bestseller What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (2007), in which Goldsmith summarizes the 20 habits leaders have to lose as they rise from success to success and cultivate more awareness and inspiring leadership. In his introduction, Goldsmith explains his book’s premise: “We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.” One of the 20 habits Goldsmith zooms in on is “adding too much value: the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.”
I work on this habit with coaching clients (across industries, functions, and geographies) whose default need-to-be-right-and-or-brilliant can easily hamper one of the imperatives of being a leader: the need to empower others.
If a direct report — or someone else’s, or even a peer — makes a compelling or brilliant point in a public setting, like a meeting (virtual or in-person), you really can leave it at that by acknowledging their contribution. And as a sidebar there’s more to acknowledgment than “great point Paola!” (The art of acknowledgment, in person or in a Zoom chat, is worthy of a whole other blog post, and there’s also the art of less verbose acknowledgments, which can be powerful too).
The challenge, with that irresistible urge to add value, is to avoid rushing in to have the last word, or to interject one more perfect addendum to your colleagues’ point or presentation. You may be clever and, yes, no doubt, that extra nuance could remind others in the room that you really know your stuff (OK, maybe you really do know more), but being an effective leader is not about looking good, rather, it’s about letting those who are doing a great job shine. If you worry about wanting to look SO GOOD, bring this concern to your next coaching session.
Here’s what we know: an interjection from one’s boss can take the wind out of a person’s sails. Instead of systematically displaying more knowledge, expertise, stellar nuances, (fill in the blank) inspiring leaders do well to focus on empowering others by letting them fully own what they just brought to the discussion.
That irresistible urge to add extra sprinkles on top of the ice-cream comes from a hard-wired need most ambitious people have to excel, go further, add value. It’s just that the 0.001% value your intelligent comment or intervention brings also incurs the subtle but unnecessary (and therefore, avoidable!) cost of gently disempowering that direct report who deserves the credit and the limelight.
Goldsmith reminds us that “Successful people become great leaders when they learn to shift the focus from themselves to others.” It’s not easy to train oneself to do this, but with the help of a savvy leadership coach, you can quickly develop the awareness you’ll need to shift that focus.
To learn more about developing your leadership skills and empowering others, contact Gilly for a consultation.