One of the things I enjoy the most in my work as a coach is helping my clients come up with regular practices that will make them better leaders. One of my guiding principles as a coach is the line from Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I’ve learned over the years that if my clients can identify a few key things to do on a repeated basis, they can quickly make positive changes in their effectiveness. The secret is to find some things to do that are in the sweet spot of easy to do and likely to make a difference.
Take the recent example of a client I’ll call Bob. One of the big messages in a 360 degree survey I conducted for Bob is that he comes across as a micro manager who jumps into solving his teams problems and gives them the answer when they’re not looking for the answer. This was not a revelation to Bob. When we were talking about it, he even referred to himself as a “micro data collector.”
He also agreed that for the good of his team and his own future opportunities he needed to change his ways. One simple repeatable practice that we came up with was for Bob to keep track of his questions to answers ratio in conversations with his team. The goal with this one is to raise his awareness of when he wants to provide an answer and to build his skills in the alternative behavior of asking open ended questions like, “What are your options?” and “What do you think you should do?”
Then we came up with a practice that’s going to hit Bob in the wallet if he doesn’t change his ways. I call it curing the curse of the V-Bobs.
Bob told me one of the things that is an inside joke with his team is what they call V-Bobs. A V-Bob happens when they send a presentation for Bob to review and he makes tweaks, corrections and edits and sends it back with V-Bob in the title. In other words, it’s Version Bob. In talking about the V-Bobs, Bob acknowledged that a lot of his changes are minor and issues of personal preference. I asked him how many V-Bobs he sends back in an average week. He quickly said around five a week. We both agreed that was a lot. My question was what would it take to get it down to two V-Bobs a week? We kicked ideas around for a bit and then I asked what difference would it make if you had to pay for the privilege of sending V-Bobs? Bob said that he would certainly stop and think about it if he had to pay extra for his V-Bobs.
The next step took some good natured negotiating on both of our parts but here’s where we ended up. Bob gets two free V-Bobs every week. For each V-Bob over the weekly two, he has a deal with his team that he has to kick 25 bucks into a team party pot. Bob pushed back on the dollar amount at first. “How about five bucks?” was his first suggestion. My response was it’s got to be a big enough number that you’ll think about it before you act. After briefing his wife on the deal (smart move, Bob), he agreed and told his team about the V Bob challenge. They, of course, loved the idea. I’m not sure how big a party they’re going to get out of the deal, though. The reports over the past several weeks are that the V Bobs have shrunk from a flood to a trickle.
Have any micromanagers in your life? Is it possible that you see one in the mirror in the morning? What are some easy to do, likely to make a difference routines you could come up with to encourage a change?