The Omniscience Trap: What It Is and How It’s Getting in Your Way

The Omniscience Trap: What It Is and How It’s Getting in Your Way

The Omniscience Trap: What It Is and How It’s Getting in Your Way

Who among us hasn’t fallen into the trap of believing that to be worth our salt as managers, we need to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent at work? In Truman style, we declare that the buck stops with us and confuse taking responsibility for results with in charge of control everything that happens to a project, department or business unit.

Everyone knows the bottlenecks that occur when too much information passes through one pair of hands. Typically, managers who take responsibility for all the details spend long hours reviewing the work of associates (which is often of an administrative nature), while higher-level functions, such as setting strategy, are neglected.

On the other hand, managers who take responsibility for results perform a leadership function that includes setting a vision, establishing goals, developing strategy, and managing resources. Instead of focusing on how each task is performed, process is evaluated. Instead of reviewing everyone else’s work, do the work habits are assessed to ensure that people have the skills and resources they need to perform well.

This distinction is critical for entrepreneurs, the newly promoted, and the currently overwhelmed. I often find with coaching clients that unreasonable or unrealistic expectations are at the root of the omniscient, ever-present, and omnipotent syndrome. We hope you at least smiled when you read the title of this article because you realize the impracticality of literally striving to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.

There are a number of reasons why people fall into the control trap. These include anxiety about being held accountable, perfectionism, lack of confidence, and repeating bad habits learned from former bosses. Sometimes people fall back on skills, such as keeping up with details, that were important in previous jobs but not in larger roles with managerial responsibility.

If you find yourself bogged down in details that drain your energy and hold you back from activities that add value to the bottom line, you may be operating with unrealistic expectations. Common ones include insisting on a particular outcome, success on the first try, or for something to happen a certain way. Others think all or nothing and treat any failure as a disaster.

The owner of a computer consulting firm had trouble growing the business, in part because he had to be responsible for the work of all his subcontractors. She challenged any of their methods that differed from how she would have done the job, and often had to correct mistakes made by two inexperienced technicians she used on smaller jobs because they charged relatively low rates. Meanwhile, she was not devoting enough time to bringing in new clients, raising concerns about billable hours in the coming months. She was exhausting herself trying to wear the hats of company president, director of sales and chief technology officer.

By choosing to see herself as responsible for managing the growth of her business rather than how people perform their jobs, she was able to realign her priorities. She began devoting much more of her energy to revenue-generating activities and evaluating her subcontractors based on meaningful criteria such as bottom line and customer satisfaction. And she developed clear requirements for skill levels and stopped hiring inexperienced people who required strict supervision that she could not afford.

Here are some tips if you fall into the “know-it-all trap”:

● Create a diary of all your daily activities for a period of one or two weeks. Sort items by category and look for areas where you might be spending a lot of time for a little payback.

● See if you can recognize any unrealistic expectations, such as those mentioned above, that you have of yourself or other people. Looking at yourself objectively can be difficult, so you may want to enlist the help of a coach, mentor, colleague, or friend.

● Try to connect your thoughts with the behavior you want to change. Let’s say you’re falling short of your sales goal because you’re not making enough cold calls. What goes through your mind while staring at your phone? One budding entrepreneur realized that she associated every “no” from a potential customer with an accusation against her product (“It’s not good enough”).

● Reframe your thinking and replace unwanted behavior with one that is more realistic. Your new thought pattern must be one that you truly believe is more effective than the old one. The entrepreneur mentioned above decided to look at cold calling as a process to connect the right customers with the right product.

● Visualize yourself facing the situation in a new way. Do this in as much detail as possible, imagining how you feel, what you do or say, and the results you want. Then practice. Your chances of success increase if you have someone who can watch for times when you slip into old patterns or rehearse new scenarios with you.

Finally, be careful of creating unrealistic expectations for change! Changing ingrained behavior takes time, practice and patience, so start small in one area. A simple but often very effective reinforcement is to reward yourself with something meaningful after your goal is achieved.

#Omniscience #Trap

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