When Should You Keep Your Ideas to Yourself?

When Should You Keep Your Ideas to Yourself?

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?

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.

2. 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."

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