Saturday 9 November 2013

When less is more...

It is always fun when one stumbles across research which supports one's own existing hypotheses (or indeed prejudices).  So I was delighted to find a piece or work (courtesy a blogpost on the excellent Harvard Business Review site) which suggests that leaders who talk too much get poorer results from their teams.

The thesis is that leaders who feel powerful tend to dominate (verbally) their teams; that encourages team members to believe that their ideas and contributions are not valued, and the result is poorer team performance.

Call it confirmation bias, but I certainly think I have witnessed this.  And by the same token, some of the leaders I admire the most, and who seem to me to get the best results from people working with them, are precisely those who go out of their way to demonstrate their genuine interest in the ideas of others, and recognise (and counter-act) the power dynamics that make it less likely that people will be truly open and honest in talking with them.

The full article may be found here: and it is well worth a read.  I do not agree with all their hypotheses.  Also I question some of the underlying assumptions. For example, they hypothesise that when leaders are reminded of team members' instrumentality [that is, usefulness to them in accomplishing goals] their tendency to dominate will be restrained, which seems to me to ignore the power of habit. The fact that the experiments were conducted using subjects who do not usually work together might not show this: but a leader who has dominated for years might need more than a 'reminder' of others' instrumentality to help him or her to modify behaviour… (In fairness, the article does recognise this and other limitations implied by their methodology).

(I also deprecate some of their language: 'to summit' as a verb is a new one on me - but I am told that there is no noun that can't be verbed!)

But it is all fascinating and thought-provoking stuff - and the overall message concurs with my prejudices, so is clearly true!

Interestingly, this also resonates with my interest in rhetoric: one of the points I should have made in my previous post is that brevity is often a hall mark of the effective influencer.

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