The 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top (part 2 of 5)

(this is the second part of a five part series)

As I mentioned before, i’ll follow-up the habits with some commentary on how I see these in my daily life.

The 20 habits that prevent you from getting to the top

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 besides the point.

This one I find mostly when there are differences of opinion between parties. Say you’re in a call, somebody says we ought do A, somebody else says doing B is so much better. Sometimes people are even agreeing but doing it so violently that it has to stem out of a need to win (in this case when it doesn’t matter). The best way to resolve these is with a common higher up purpose. We often come back to “what’s best for customers?”. Another common higher up purpose can be built by having a product plan in where you specified priorities and a framework for making decisions in advance.

What’s key for me is that sometimes it’s just ok to say “lets do B”, and move on. Energy, willpower and focus are finite resources and we are doing a disservice to the company if we debate every single detail instead of focusing on adding value to the end result. Sometimes nobody knows the answer, so A is as good as B. Discussing it to eternity is not the point, not trying to have your word as the final say however, is (specially when you end up  more time discussing than doing).

2. Adding too much value: the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

Guilty! I just recently empowered a senior member in my team to gather a team around him and self organise with the sole purpose of working on providing the whole team with the best possible start conditions we could for a critical part of the project. He was great, setup a whole agile structure, templates, gathered the team on daily scrums, got things done and even setup a retrospective to learn from his mistakes. Then I came into the picture… Camouflaged as “I’m trying to help”, I suggested he changed a couple of things here and there and that some of the things he was doing could be further improved by doing X,Y,Z. I even went as far as suggesting he dropped his purpose carved templates and moved to a web solution.

The problem with this approach is that while his idea might have gotten 10% better by implementing my suggestions, his ownership of the idea would have decreased by as much as 50%.

Luckily I had another senior member of my team tell me that I was guilty of adding too much value before it was too late. I apologised and moved on (see #15).

3. Passing judgement: the need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

Mission positive, mission negative or mission neutral. When an idea comes your way, try to stay with a mission neutral mentality and prevent imposing your standards or ideas on what you hear.

This one is one i learned to do better as time went on. A way I think about it is as “flipping the bozo bit”. If somebody is talking to you dressed as a clown, you’re more likely to interpret everything that comes out of his mouth as funny. He might be talking thermodynamics and you still try hard to find the joke in the midst of it. This same dissonance comes out when you are more likely to interpret the words coming out of someone as harsh, critical, negative, or even warm, positive and truthful. Just because the most senior person in the room has said so you don’t have to nod and say that’s true. Having a more mission neutral mentality in where you act as an investigator trying to understand the scene of the crime (no pun) or as a researcher interpreting data usually provides better results.

One of the instances I saw happen of this was of this one guy constantly providing opinions on topics that were completely outside of his scope of action. Those ranged from when to deliver features to what features to deliver. After two or three times, most members of the team disconnected from what he was saying. That, was a mistake. Acting as more of a researcher, it turns out some of his suggestions were actually spot on the best thing to do for customers! I reframed his participatin to the team as “the voice of the customer” and most of his suggestions suddenly started making a lot of sense. To this day, this guys participation is invaluable, and a role I think every team would benefit from having.

4. Making destructive comments: the needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

Not super guilty of this one, I’m actually quite refrained from sarcasm and destructive comments. Using sarcasm and destructive comments as a management tool is not something I would advise doing.

So instead of remarking a situation in where i was sarcastic, let me give you an example of how to deal with this situation superbly (actually heard this one from a friend during a call). Just say “wait a minute… Let me think of something witty to say as well”. It acknowledges the sarcasm (and the emptiness of the message it contains) and even if it breaks a bit of rapport it won’t cause the whole conversation to crumble down. Love it!

5. Starting with “no,” “but,” or “however”: the overuse of these qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right, you’re wrong”.

Every time you start a sentence with these qualifiers, no matter what tone of voice or how pure you think you sound, the message you’re conveying is “I’m right, you’re wrong”.

Instead work with “and the way I see it is…”, or “that’s true, and…”, or “I hear you, I can see how you arrived at that thought – what if we add …”.

I proactively monitor for how many times my sentences start with no, but or however and replace it with one of the above.

A funny side note here is that sometimes you’ll meet people that only start their sentences with no, but or however. The key realisation is that no matter what you say, you’re pushing into the solution space and they’re pushing you back into the obstacle space. Instead, agree in pushing through the obstacle space together after you’ve explored the solution fully. I’ve had success by interrupting the pattern and saying something like “it sounds like we’re focused more on the obstacles of the road than setting the right coordinates on the GPS. I’d like the opportunity to first explore (brainstorm) the solution space fully to see if it’s somewhere worth arriving at and then move into the obstacle space and see how we go about solving them together. This way we don’t end up climbing a ladder that’s against the wrong wall. Does this make sense as an approach to you too?”

See you next week for the next 5 habits!


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