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Hippo effect and dichotomy of leadership

Hippo effect and dichotomy of leadership

It was not long after I became a manager for the first time. We had a big project ahead of us, so we organised a kick-off meeting.

It was a good meeting. We quickly went over the schedule; the decisions have been made. The project manager asked all questions, which were answered mainly by me. We took notes. Action points were ready and distributed. I was pleased with myself. Everything seemed to be smooth and going in the right direction. However, things were about to change dramatically.

Then, I got my 1-on-1 with my leader. He asked me, “what could you do better in that kick-off meeting?”

Better?? Could I be quicker? Should I answer all questions in advance? Could we avoid meeting at all? Could I drive it via email?

It was all wrong answers. That day I learnt about the HIPPO effect and how I harmed my team rather than helping them to grow. Something that, as a manager, should always be my priority number one.

I just wanted to help… But there is a dichotomy there…

πŸ¦› HIPPO effect

What is the HIPPO effect? Here is the definition from Smartpedia

HIPPO is an acronym and stands for Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. The effect states that the opinion of the highest-paid person is given more consideration in a decision because it has a higher value per se. The value of the opinion is thus linked to the salary of the person expressing a said opinion. The higher the salary, the more important the opinion. Or in other words: “What is done is what the person with the highest salary says”.

As a term, the HIPPO effect was probably first used by Avinash Kaushik in 2007 in his book “Web Analytics: An Hour a Day” ΒΉ. Kaushik argues that the effect occurs primarily when there is no valid data that significantly determine a decision. Therefore, evidence-based and/or collaborative decision-making formats are readily cited as an antidote in various publications.

βš–οΈ Dichotomy of Leadership

I have recently noticed that the “hippo effect” is not limited to people higher in the hierarchy.

It can also happen when an engineer with seniority and experience shares his thoughts or presents an available option to solve the problem.

And here is the leadership dichotomy:

  • You still want to share our thoughts and help teams broaden the horizons of options etc.
  • But we want to ensure people take it as one of many opinions or thoughts, not as a guide.

πŸ”§ What can we do?

Our goal is to serve with our experience, but on the other hand, we want to develop the team and people individually, encouraging them to take responsibility. I try to ask additional questions when I see the need to add something from myself:

  • Do you need help?
  • Who is responsible for this project?
  • What other proposals have already been made?

If I think there is a need for the team to get to know my opinion, then by offering your option, it is worth “softening” it and indicating the intentions:

  • End with a statement that this is your opinion, which should be treated on an equal footing with others
  • Ask for a counter-offer
  • End with the statement, “but I’m not as close to the problem as you are, so treat my opinion/advice as one of many to be verified.”

What is your way of offering help and ensuring there is no HIPPO in a room? Join the discussion on Twitter πŸ‘‡

Thanks for reading!

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