Carlos is the CEO of a successful food company.
“He is brilliant, hard-working, and an expert in his field,” writes Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. “He started out on the factory floor and rose through sales and marketing to the top spot. There is nothing in his business that he hasn’t seen firsthand.”
“Like many creative people, he is also hyperactive, with the metabolism and attention span of a hummingbird. He loves to buzz around his company’s facilities, dropping in on employees to see what they’re working on and shoot the breeze. Carlos loves people, and he loves to talk,” Marshall writes. “All in all, Carlos presents a very charming package.”
Except when his mouth runs ahead of his brain.
A month earlier, Carlos’s design team presented him with their ideas for the packaging of a new line of snacks. Carlos loved the designs. A thought crossed his mind: “What do you think about changing the color to baby blue? Blue says expensive and upmarket.”
So, the design team made the modifications and set up a meeting to finalize the packaging. Once again, Carlos likes what he sees. Then, he adds: “I think it might be better in red.”
The members of the design team are confused. A month ago, their CEO said he preferred blue. They have changed the concept and worked overtime to make him happy. And now, he’s changed his mind. Again. “They leave the meeting dispirited and less than enthralled with Carlos,” writes Marshall.
Carlos is a confident CEO. “But he has a bad habit of verbalizing any and every internal monologue in his head,” Marshall observes.
Why is this a problem? Because when the CEO expresses his or her opinion, everyone jumps to attention. The higher we rise in our organizations, the more our suggestions become “orders”.
“Carlos thinks he’s merely tossing an idea against the wall to see if it sticks,” Marshall observes. His associates “think he’s giving them a direct command. Carlos thinks he’s running a democracy, with everyone allowed to voice their opinion.” His team members believe it’s “a monarchy, with Carlos as king.”
Carlos wants to share his knowledge from all his years of experience. His associates view him as “micromanaging and excessive medaling,” notes Marshall.
The bottom line? Carlos has no idea how he’s coming across to his colleagues. His blind spot? Adding too much value.
Which is #2 on Marshall’s list of interpersonal leadership behaviors which make our workplaces more unhealthy than they need to be. As leaders, in time, these “minor” interpersonal foibles begin to chip away at the goodwill we’ve built. Sometimes, these “minor irritations” can blow up into major crises.
Here is Marshall’s complete list:
1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations—when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
5. Starting with “No”, “But”, or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.
9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information to maintain an advantage over others.
10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture, so people excuse us for it.
13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent, who are usually only trying to help us.
19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.
The good news? All of these interpersonal flaws are simple to correct. As human beings, we possess the necessary skill set. “For example, the cure for not thanking enough is remembering to say, ‘Thank you’. How hard is that?” Marshall asks.
“For not apologizing, it’s learning to say, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll do better in the future.’ For punishing the messenger, it’s imagining how we’d like to be treated under similar circumstances. For not listening, it’s keeping our mouths shut and ears open.
“And so on. Although this stuff is simple, it’s not easy (there’s a difference),” he notes.
We already “know what to do,” he writes. “It’s as basic as tying our shoelaces or riding a bike, or any other skill that lasts a lifetime. We just lose sight of the many daily opportunities to employ them, and thus get rusty.”
Reflection: Which interpersonal behaviors on Marshall’s list am I guilty of?
Action: Journal about it. What would I have to start or stop doing to minimize or eliminate this tendency?