During the late 1990s, then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan coined the term Irrational Exuberance to denote the absurdity of over-enthusiasm investors had regarding stocks – particularly dot-com stocks – at the time.
A management approach that I’ve observed that is probably more widespread and just as dangerous is Unnecessary Anxiety.
This happens when managers…
- Have no clue how to assess whether an issue is large or small
- Don’t understand the details of the project, curbing their ability to link causes and effects
- Allow their emotions to get involved causing them to make mountains out of molehills
- Feel the need to prove their authority
The negative effects on the team dealing with Unnecessary Anxiety are:
- Additional meetings to talk the manager off the ledge, requiring more people to vouch for the statements you’ve already reported to the manager.
- Additional reporting procedures to keep the manager informed of every detail moving forward.
- Reluctance of the team to report small to medium issues fearing the manager will overreact.
Which type of error to commit?
Remembering back to my college statistics classes, we learned about “type 1 errors” and “type 2 errors”. The type 1 error is the rejection of a true null hypothesis while a type 2 error is the failure to reject a false null hypothesis. In English, a type 1 error is assuming something true is false, a type 2 error is assuming something false is true.
As a manager, I’ve often debated whether I’m making one of those mistakes. If it’s an issue with major ramifications that I don’t address (a type 1 error), things can get out of hand quickly and the executive team is breathing down my neck asking why I didn’t address this earlier.
If it’s not a big deal, but I address it with Unnecessary Anxiety making a big deal of it (a type 2 error), it costs the team extra time, but I’ve covered my ass with the executives just in case I’m wrong.
Even great managers make both of the mistakes every once in a while. The problem exists when a manager practices Unnecessary Anxiety on a consistent basis. This creates a dead weight on his team by wasting their time with needless meetings, reports, emails, etc.
The long term effects are the low morale of the team dealing with unnecessary activities and the ultimate drag on the team’s productivity because they weren’t doing their real work.
How does a manager avoid Unnecessary Anxiety?
Understand the details. A manager needs to be intimate enough with the details of a situation to know how a change in one area will affect another. If you don’t know – at least at a high level – how the system works, you shouldn’t be managing it.
Ask the team what it means. Some managers are afraid to ask questions of the team for fear they’ll be seen as out of touch. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. When a team member presents an issue ask them to explain the ramifications. Even if you think you know, they may have a better perspective. Ask them what their recommended options are. A good manager teaches his staff to present options with issues anyway.
Trust your team. Instead of scheduling meetings and requiring additional reporting steps, show your team that you trust them to resolve it. Only get involved if they need an obstacle removed. Every once in a while you may get burned on this. But if you trust your team members until they give you reason not to trust them, you will all be more productive.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.