Among the many of father’s famous soundbites, lies one of my all-time favorites; Less is More. I must admit that when hearing this as a kid, I always hoped he meant something like, “less work is better” but unfortunately, he didn’t. What I came to realize over the years was that he meant, “The less complicated you make things, the more you get out of it”. Whether he was talking about his approach to coaching football, his incredible career as an attorney, chores around the house, family life or most relative to this post; leadership, he truly believed that the less complicated we make things, the better off we are.
Now, it’s important for you to understand that this doesn’t mean that my father was relaxed in his approach to anything. He always set extremely high expectations for everything he did and what he expected from others, but he did so in a very simple and direct way. He saw the way that unneeded complications, additional work, or unnecessary stress had negative effects on things so he steered away from it whenever possible. He understood what his goal was and kept his approach to accomplishing that goal simple and direct.
He preached the importance of passion, hard work, perseverance, and teamwork and he understood how to integrate those characteristics into a simple and direct approach to leadership.
As a young kid, I could always predict when he was getting ready to throw this soundbite my way and often times, I would cut him off saying something smart like, “Yea, yea Dad. I got it. Less is more…”
I never really appreciated how valuable this concept truly was until I arrived at basic training. aIt was then that I was first submerged into the chaotic environment of military leadership and that’s when it clicked. Less really is more and simple really is better. I didn’t have time to come up with detailed plans with carefully thought out action steps which left me with one real option; make things simple and be direct whenever possible so my choices as a leader were easily (and quickly) understood by everyone. And as my military career continued, those three simple words became more and more valuable.
Less is more.
We live in such a complex and chaotic world where we every day we are exposed to new experiences, unwelcome changes, and high amounts of stress. The expectations for us as leaders are constantly evolving and this often leads us to believe that more we need to “do more” to prepare ourselves and our teams for what’s ahead. But contrary to popular belief, fancy language, excessive detail and unnecessary “trimmings” often do more harm than good. Generally, they aren’t received well by those you lead either because it’s often perceived as a lack of trust between you and those you led. As you “spoonfeed” people with details they don’t need you subject yourself to our instinct to micromanage…
Complicated language and excessive detail can also be intimidating for someone who is unfamiliar with that language you use and this can lead to significant decrease in performance. I learned to just give people the information that they need to be successful and leave the rest out. Despite having the best of intentions when providing high levels of detail and information to those we lead, it’s rarely perceived the way we hoped it would be.
Providing “too much” support and direction leads to micromanaging regardless of whether or not that was our intention as the leader. But by using simple and clearly understood language and by being direct in the guidance we provide, we can set clear expectations without overstepping our role as the leader. Give people the information they need to understand what your expectation is and take a step back and give them the opportunity to go to work and figure out the details of how to execute certain tasks on their own. If more guidance is required down the road than you can step back in as appropriate.
I know it sounds counterintuitive but by doing less you often end up with more in the long run. You have given people the ability to grow and expand their capabilities by not doing their work for them and you give people the opportunity to build trust with you as they showcase their talents and capabilities.
Less is More.
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