Survival of the loudest

On the heels of writing about prioritizing by what’s urgent rather than important, an article in Management-Issues reminds me we also have to worry about prioritization based on who yells the loudest. The article quotes a U.C. Berkeley study which showed outspoken people were judged as possessing higher levels of general intelligence, regardless of their actual abilities.

Dominant people were so confident in their competence, even though they were no more competent than anyone else.

Said another way, talented people exhibited more confidence in their opinions but having a strong opinion did not correlate to increased ability. Given constantly evolving business conditions, true competence can be tricky to measure. As a result, organizations tend to rely on confidence as a proxy for competence when determining performance and considering promotions.

This leads to a potentially vicious circle. Those leaders who yell the loudest are most likely to have higher priority associated with their projects which leads to a higher percentage of successful initiatives. This in turn suggests greater competence which reinforces the self-confident behavior. Yelling leads to more yelling.

We need to break this cycle. Employees prefer leaders who share information about why things are important (strategy and outcomes) and not just what needs to be done (activities).  Employees are more motivated and more successful when leaders delegate responsibility based on clear priorities. And better motivated employees are the secret to all performance improvement initiatives.

Management by yelling might work for a while but it’s not sustainable.

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One Response to Survival of the loudest

  1. Anonymous May 20, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    I have noticed this dynamic in the office place for years, which often tends to lead to executives and managers who “lead by monologue”. These managers tend to solicit only token input from their staff and then ignore anything that doesn’t mesh with their way of thinking…usually also maligning those who disagree. They don’t understand that those people could expand the value prop by providing a more holistic perspective. Ultimately, the people who manage by yelling end up surrounding themselves by “yes men”, which only adds to their sense of power and “being right”.

    Fortunately for all of us, the pendulum also swings the other way. The organization usually corrects the situation over time: no one can get away with leadership by yelling forever. The yeller will isolate themselves over time by continuing to rail against whatever situation they are not happy with or by constantly demanding that their group should lead all of the most important and strategic initiatives in the company. The organization grows tired of their constant complaining and will find ways of working around the yeller — or ignoring them outright. Usually the yeller doesn’t realize this until its too late.

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