How to avoid becoming a HiPPO

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This isn’t diet advice. Not sure if I can talk with authority on that subject.

No, this is some advice for you if you’ve become a HiPPO. You’re the founder, the CEO, the CTO, the General Manager, the Head of Sales. You’re a “senior decision-maker”, and the important decisions in your world are based on the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion.


Why is this bad? Because you’re not Steve Jobs. Sorry to burst your bubble. By behaving like this, your projects are more likely to fail, your unscientific, cognitively-based position will frustrate and demoralise your team. You will quickly become the constraint to scaling your business – you’ll be slowing everything down, and on a one-way ride to burnout.

HiPPOitis is an easy disease to catch. I’ve contracted it myself, more than once. It often comes from reasonable places – a desire to succeed; a fear of failure; a need to protect your team; a urge to demonstrate authority to your boss, your board and your investors. And you rarely go down with full symptoms overnight – sometimes it can take months or even years for your world to get busier, more complex, more stressful, more HiPPO-friendly.

Early warning signs:

  • You find yourself in more and more meetings.
  • The list of people who you need to get back to, gets longer and longer.
  • It’s difficult to find the time to work on the “important” stuff.

But for a proper diagnosis, ask your team. Better: get someone else to ask your team. Get the feedback. Do they feel railroaded? Do they feel like you don’t listen? Do they feel disempowered? Do they think you’re stubborn? Do they feel intimidated by your intelligence, knowledge, experience, track record?

I’m serious – these aren’t rhetorical questions. Get the answers.

But don’t panic! HiPPOitis is preventable, treatable, and it can be completely reversed. Your three point plan:

1 – Stop, collaborate and listen

For the really big decisions, follow a structured process. Even if you have a preferred solution, work with your team. There are oodles of tools out there to help, a quick Google away – but the best decisions start from an objective review of what we know – data; customer/market perspective; the view from the coal face in your organisation; expert analysis. They then generate a number of possible options before a decision is taken and only then move to select the best.

If your preferred solution is good, there’s no harm in kicking it hard. If it’s flawed, or there’s a better alternative, better to find that out now.

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2 – Delegation

For the middle-sized decisions, try to find ways of delegating them. It may take you two or three goes to have the confidence to fully delegate a decision, but until you start, you’re never going to give the real development opportunities to your people to help you all step up as a team. Situational Leadership, described in Leadership and the One Minute Manager is the tool to use here, but in essence it requires you to coach your employees until they’re competent and confident enough to cut the cord – and when they get there, you get out of the way.

3 – Know yourself

The hard bit isn’t knowing how to reduce HiPPOitis – it’s being aware that it’s happening, and the impact it’s having. I’ll say it a third time: ask the questions, of your team, and your organisation. Get the feedback, and build a plan, with your team. Together, you’ll find the right solutions.

As a leader, executive coaching can help. It can provide a thinking partnership, to find opportunities to make better decisions, and to develop your leadership. If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch.


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