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Transcript: Leaders need to learn to do less

Northwestern’s Keith Murnighan says leaders do too much and that doesn’t leave them time to think about the business.

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KARL MOORE – This Is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University with Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Northwestern's Keith Murnighan.

So Keith, you have studied leadership for a number of years, and had a very good selling book last year, what is your main thinking about leadership today?

KEITH MURNIGHAN – So, my thinking about leadership is all about leaders doing too much and making it too hard for themselves. They can't help themselves; they do too much! They get in the way of people who work for them, they don't allow them to grow, and they don't take advantage of their skills. I think a leader's job should be to facilitate and orchestrate, and the orchestrate is pretty obvious. But I like to ask people, "What would your life be like if all of your team members lived up to their maximum potential?" Boy does that give them a smile! So the obvious follow up is: "Why not help them live up to their maximum potential?" It is not very natural for leaders to take on that role so I often think about my job with executive classes and with my book as beating people on the head to get them to do less.

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KARL MOORE – How do you get them to do less?

KEITH MURNIGHAN – For me it is just pointing out how much more they could get done if they did do less – if they interfered with their team members less they could think more. Another obvious question I ask that people have simple answers for is, "How many of you have calm, quiet days at work?" Very few people can answer that with a 'yes' and as a result they can't think long-term strategy, they can't think about career succession and succession planning for their teams and for their organizations. If I can convince them that their team members can do more, they can do less and actually can accomplish more.

KARL MOORE – Why do people over-manage then? What makes them do that?

KEITH MURNIGHAN – Two things: No. 1. – Evolution has led us to be active. If you think back to our ancestral trees, they go back hundreds of thousands of years. The only reason we are here was because our ancestors were active. They protected themselves and they sustained themselves which took incredible action. Do we have to work hard to get food? For the most part not, so we are overactive. The other thing, why do we get promoted? Why do people get promoted to positions of leadership? Because they have been doing things well. The problem is you get promoted for something; you get rewarded for it, you think you should do more of it when you actually should do less. So our natural tendencies are to do more when actually, when we move up, we should do less and less. And the story shouldn't be about us; it should be about them, about our team, and about us supporting them to do the job and us just helping out.

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