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Are You a Simplifier or Complexifier? The Truth in 10 Questions

By Lisa Bodell

Are You a Simplifier or Complexifier? The Truth in 10 Questions

Complexity sucks the energy from an organization and prevents it from collaborating, flourishing, or innovating. But for simplicity to become an operating principle, it must be reflected in leadership’s daily habits: decision-making, communication, and managerial duties.

Discover whether you’re creating complexity or contributing to simplification by asking yourself these 10 questions and replying either Yes or No:

  1. I often send emails that are longer than one paragraph and/or require significant time to read.
  2. Emails that I send usually include more than three cc’s or bcc’s.
  3. I expect my employees to put my projects first, regardless of their workload.
  4. I often use business jargon and buzzwords in my written and spoken communication.
  5. I require my team members to involve me in all the decisions they make.
  6. I’m frequently too busy to provide feedback or actions on reports or presentations that I assign.
  7. I expect employees to follow formal processes no matter what.
  8. I, or my team, consistently strive to add new processes, products, or procedures to our work.
  9. I hold multiple, recurring meetings with my team/s.
  10. I require my team/s to create multiple, recurring reports.

If you answered No to every statement: Bravo, you’re a successful simplifier. Meetings, reports, and presentations are concise and useful under your leadership. Your level of trust and risk tolerance is high—as evidenced by the number of smart decisions being made by your direct reports.

If you answered Yes to two or fewer statements: You’re a simplifier with signs of complexity. Your people are mostly aligned on what matters—and you’re helping them focus on valuable work. However, if teams are frequently asking your permission on things, your unwillingness to grant autonomy to others may be the culprit.

If you answered Yes to three or four statements: You’re a complexifier-in-training. You (and your people) are functioning, but your tight grip on the reins is a source of frustration to colleagues and direct reports. You’re associated with long meetings, endless reports and analyses, and unfocused work streams.

If you answered yes to five or more statements: You’re a classic complexifier. Inadvertently, you’ve trained employees to inflate, not narrow, the scope of projects, and to view meetings as a stand-in for valuable work. Root causes of your complexity may be fear, the need for control, or a combination of both, but the cure lies in an open-minded approach to simplification.

For those of us who exhibit signs of complexity, we need to recognize our ability to change those behaviors. Review the statements above to which you answered Yes, and determine at least two of these that are in your power to change. By humbly addressing your specific behaviors that are contributing to complexity, you can actually reduce your complexity level right now.

Lisa Bodell serves as a global council member of the World Economic Forum, and has helped thousands of senior leaders ignite innovation at Bloomberg, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, and many others. She has been rated as a top speaker at Google’s client events and is the author of the best-selling book Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, which won the 2014 Axiom Best Business Book Award. Her new book, Why Simple Wins, has just been published and is available now.

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