Confessions of an Anti-Leader Part 1

By Peter Schibli | Blog

Feb 06

Liz Wiseman calls people like me, “accidental diminishers“.

She’s kind.

It’s not accidental at all. My most destructive anti-leadership behaviours were done full noise and despite a trainwreck of clues… people leaving my meetings and workshops  zapped of energy; a kind of ‘stupid-zone’ where people around me never came up with any good thinking; a feeling like I had to do everything myself. I was frustrated, but I knew it wasn’t me – after all, I was a good person wasn’t I?


And here’s why: I’d get excited, I’d see connections, possibilities, layers of nuance and insight, ways to build on those sparks…  and then I’d share them, and share and share and share…  Of course, what I was really doing (this is painfully embarrassing) was overwhelming everyone and sucking out all the oxygen from the room. And then I discovered the damage I was doing was much worse…

It turns out that when people see a connection between two different things and have an insight, a set of special neurotransmitters get released which help inspire that person to take action. But if you draw the dots for them they get the ‘aha’ moment without the spur to action and do… nothing. Which is exactly what I got.

Clearly they were just idiots, turning my golden ideas into lead. Luckily I was the idiot, and luckily I ran across the genius of Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers. After a period of sick realisation and relief that it was something I’d caused, and therefore in was my control, I went to work.

Transforming myself was hard. To govern the flow of ideas: I’d impose a rule – one third of the time I would simply acknowledge an idea with a nod or a ‘good’, the other third I would ask them a question to draw out their insight; and the last third of I would allow myself to build on their idea by adding something to it. I forced myself to fully solicit the other person’s ideas and thinking first. Samuel Smiles summed it up well, ‘It is disrespectful to take away the privilege of people solving their own problems’.

Sometimes I’ll practice what Liz calls extreme questioning, a kind of Socratic enquiry with no ideas allowed from me. My creativity becomes the elegance and beauty of my questions. They become the teacher and I leave delighted by how smart people are.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling lazy or low in self-esteem I fall back to old habits. My original title for this post was ‘How to stop people from learning through cognitive log-jamming’. Pompous – check. Hard to read – check. Too clever – check. I just mention this to you to show you how insidious it can be.

I see this at work in training programmes whose strategy is to give as much information about the subject as possible. The trap is that 99% of it is irrelevant to the person in the programme, and the overload shuts them down to the 1% that might be useful. The dots have been drawn for them and they take no action. Anti-leadership.

Napoleon Bonaparte said, ‘There are no bad regiments, only bad colonels”. A smarty pants might be tempted to say, ‘There are no bad colonels, only bad leadership schools’. What we really want are training programmes that use these multiplier principles, along with lean and agile thinking, to help leaders discern and solve their own issues and achieve their own goals. And in that action-learning crucible become better leaders.

That’s why I’m such an unabashed fan of the JumpShift leadership programmes, which (disclosure) I’m privileged to help lead. Time and again see participants in the JumpShift programmes see their own versions of my anti-leadership insight, turn them around and create solid, heart-warming results for themselves, their teams and their organisations.

Have a look at the six Accidental Diminisher behaviours at Liz’s website here, or watch her on YouTube (2 minutes here, and 1 hour google talk here). Hopefully you tick one or more of these diminisher behaviours – because then you’ll have a golden opportunity to quickly level yourself up. What better present can you give yourself and those around you this year?

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