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Gut Check: 3 Bad Habits of Overhypers

Caution: Overhype Under Deliver

Have you ever bought a trendy product – one that was really hyped in advertising and the media? Remember the feeling of excitement as you got the product, only to be disappointed because it didn’t’ live up to its hype?

We’ve all probably had this kind of experience. And it’s one that actually happens to leaders as well.

All leaders to some degree hype their companies. Being the lead cheerleader sometimes comes with the territory. And enthusiasm can be a great thing. But what do you have when you push it too far?

A big problem.

Take the story of the rise and fall of boss Bob Essner who was brought into drug giant Wyeth to engineer a turnaround.

And turn things around he did. By 2007, Essner had increased Wyeth’s overall revenue by 30 per cent. The company was earning in excess of $20 billion each year.

But at the same time, Essner had been hyping sales projections for three new drugs. The entire company bought into Essner’s unbridled enthusiasm and his promise that these new drugs would be home runs.

Unfortunately, the United States Food and Drug Administration would not approve the drugs. Essner’s sales projections turned out to be little more than overhyped forecasts based on products that were not ready for market.

On the heels of his remarkable bottom-line turnaround, Wyeth arranged for Essner’s departure from the company. The entire matter was framed as a normal succession, but industry analysts always believed he was a victim of his own tendency to overhype.

I have run into many leaders who became victims of overhyping.

Many are visionary, charismatic and bigger than life characters that often were quite successful at leading organizations.

Some however, end up being rather tragic figures that lose their luster when the board, shareholders and analysts began to see through the unbridled enthusiasm and optimism.

In other words, they began to see that these leaders were overhyping and under delivering. That is surely a recipe for disaster. It’s followed by a feeling of disappointment, the same one we feel when our product doesn’t live up to its own hype.

So what’s a leader to do? It’s important to remember that overhyping can have disastrous effects on your organization. When you’re a leader, people listen closely to everything you say.

The board of directors makes big decisions based on your advice. Investors similarly may wager heavily on your projections. The people who toil under you as well will make big decisions in their lives based on your rosy outlook. It’s the responsibility and obligation that comes with leadership.

Enthusiasm is great. It is infectious and can, in the right scenario, motivate your people to go above and beyond in their performance.

But offer people unfounded enthusiasm too often, and you will run the risk of eventually crashing and burning.

This isn’t just an issue for CEOs, but for leaders at all levels. Reflect for a moment in your own role:

  • Do you tend always put a positive spin on your communication, even when things are bad?
  • Do you tend to downplay or minimize potential threats or risks?
  • Do you use limited data points to base a decision or prove your argument?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may want to temper yourself. Get more realistic and do a better job of presenting a balanced story, rather than an overhyped one.

This week’s Gut Check question asks: Do you overhype and under deliver?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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