The Hidden Danger of Adding Value

My friend and neighbor Todd has two twin boys, Emmett and Leo.

The boys are three years old and describing them as a “bundle of energy” doesn’t do them justice.

I ran into the three of them (of all places) in the locker room of our local YMCA.They had just finished a swimming class and were changing back into their street clothes.

While the boys were changing on their own, Todd told me about a valuable lesson he’d learned earlier this year:

I used to hound Emmett and Leo to get dressed.  Every minute, I’d be on top of them: “Hurry up, get  your shirt on.  We’ve got to go–get your socks.  Come on! We’re going.  Let’s go!”

Then, one day, I decided to try an experiment. I pulled out the timer on my phone and I timed how long it took the boys to get dressed with me hounding them as usual.   Sixteen minutes.

The next time we had swim class, I decided I wouldn’t say a thing while they were getting dressed.  Just time the boys and see how long it took.  Eleven and a half minutes.

Here I was thinking I was helping so much, when in fact I was getting in the way.

Todd’s experience in the locker room is a great distillation of a challenge that many smart, successful leaders have:  the need to always be ‘adding value’.

Being smart and seeing ways to improve something is a very useful strength.  The danger is that any strength, overused, becomes a liability.

Consider, for example, the last time one your direct reports or a colleague approached you with an idea.  Did you hear them out fully and acknowledge their idea, or did you feel compelled to ‘improve’ it?  Did you say something like, “But, if you just did this… it would be even better?”

In the moment you think  you’re being helpful.  And while (in theory) you might have improved the concept, in reality,  you’re actually being harmful.  The idea’s value is only realized after it’s been implemented.  Your attempts at “improvement” have sabotaged your colleague’s commitment to execution.

As a result of your insertion, they feel less engaged and energized by their idea.  Because it’s no longer theirs….it’s yours.  They no longer have the passion and ownership to run with it in the way they did when they came to you in the first place.

Much in the same way ‘stealing credit for someone’s idea’ is demoralizing, ‘inserting extra value’ discourages the people you lead.  You probably don’t mean it…but you’re doing it nonetheless.

Next time, take a page from Todd’s playbook:  consider doing nothing. Then, follow up by acknowledging the good work that is being done–without you.

Your doing “nothing” maybe the most valuable thing you can do.

In what situations are you most likely to want jump in and “add-value”?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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