Focus On Leadership

The 10 Bad HiPPOs Running Your Business

Many business are run top down and have dominant leaders, who believe they have to make every decision or input into every decision...meaning it's their decision.

Unfortunately, this leads to a culture of fear and long term to a fixed mindset. These people are called HiPPO's...

What is a HiPPO?
HiPPO is an acronym for the "highest paid person's opinion" or the "highest paid person in the office."
The acronym is used to describe the tendency for employees to always defer to higher-paid employees when a decision has to be made. This tends to happen in many meetings from the team meeting to leadership meetings.

A HiPPO's behaviour can go against the company strategy and create a bad culture without realising.

In many boardrooms or leadership meetings there are jokes about HiPPO's and who is the HiPPO.

Here are the 10 bad HiPPO types, it is likely you are no doubt experiencing or experienced in your career. Your team are likely experiencing today:

1. The Steam Roller
You are facing two clear options, the team builds out businesses cases, they are clearly recommending option one over option two.
The HiPPO steam rolls and demands option #2 without rhythm or reason.
Ways to tackle The Stream Roller: If you have a direct relationship, bring up the example(s) of when they have done this and the impact it has had. Often The Steam Roller requires examples and guidance when it is not time sensitive. If it continues to happen after raising this, unfortunately I don't think they trust the teams judgement and will be a long term battle.

2. The Dominant
In the middle of the meeting, the dominant HiPPO makes a stand and takes over, it is not leadership or constructive, it is a show of dominance and the HiPPO has no idea they are impacting the team.
When brought up to them they are dismissive as they are being a “leader”.
Ways to tackle The Dominant: Sometimes dominant people (like with bullies) need to be stood up to, be wary as The Dominant rarely likes wants feedback in front of an audience. Take your opportunity, but make it timely and not in front of a big group.

3. The This is my way
Some HiPPO’s have no concept of any other way other than “this is my way”.
The HiPPO asks the team to offer solutions but always provide their way of doing it or solving the problem.
Great in concept, awful in problem solving or answering the problem at hand.
Ways to tackle The This Is My Way: Prove their way is not feasible and how you might tweak their approach to suit the team better. Often this is my way doesn't know another, or has no other experience other than the way they describe.

4. The How I'd do it
Slightly different HiPPO to ‘This is my way’.
How I’d do it HiPPO understands the problem at hand but without wanting to be perceived as telling people what they want they offer how I’d do it is …
How I’d do it is shocked when a better way is present and recommends going back to how I’d do it.
Ways to tackle The How I'd Do It: Do it your way and explain it was more effective but you did take their way of doing it onboard. Spend time on the process but always send across the wrap up of the project or campaign and in a short format they will consume.


5. The I've spoken to
Often HiPPO’s are that extra step ahead or so they would like to think so.
They go ahead and speak to one individual, usually their trusted right hand person and when declaring a project or movement they validate their own move by adding I’ve spoke to x.
X has no standing or expertise here.
Everyone knows this cue, but that’s the bad HiPPO for you.
Ways to tackle The I've Spoken To: This is one of the times you will have to gain support, find a supporter to join you by tackling the problem, some HiPPO's need to be told, others need to be shown, and this is one you need to show and educate and with a strong team guiding them.

6. The Cut The (Budget)
Challenging times calls for leaders right?
Cut the X HiPPO runs everything from their spreadsheet and typically wants to run the company based on the 0’s on the secret spreadsheet but has no idea of the impact of cutting the (enter your problem).
Cutting the budget HiPPO is far from going extinct
Ways to tackle The Cut The X: Numbers rarely lie when it comes to HiPPO's, this is the time you need to tackle the problem with numbers, line by line, especially if you are in Marketing, show a pipeline with numbers and the six months impact. It might not be easy work but it is essential work.

7. The You are wrong
Maybe the most frustrating HiPPO, you are wrong HiPPO.
HiPPO’s like to have quick and decisive answers, but rarely take time to digest the information, the presentation or the insights provided. Their gut suggests something therefore “you are wrong” and we are going to do this.
Ways to tackle The You Are Wrong: This is the long game, keep a record of these decisions and the times they were wrong, it is not 'I told you so', it is this is what is best for the business and we should work together on improving the teams knowledge alongside how can we help guide your thought making process in the future. Remind the HiPPO you want them in the decision making process when you need guidance not all the time.

8. The I will default to
There is a special breed of HiPPO’s who like to surround themselves with experts and have a trusted two or three person circle around them that they always will default to.
This HiPPO circle are motivated to answer on behalf of the HiPPO knowing the answer the HiPPO wants to hear. That circle rarely knows the answer for the company, just for the HiPPO.
Ways to tackle The I Will Default To: Challenge the inner circle and influence the circle and educate, educate, educate. This will have to be results and numbers driven, but don't be put off by showing the circle the work, the process and always will exec summaries. This will take a quarter to two to influence.

9. The Competitor Obsessive
Some HiPPO’s have read the leaders handbook others have learnt on the job.
Neither has the right answer every time but the safe answer is obsessed by the largest competitor and recommends you just ‘copy’, just ‘follow’, just ‘see” what competitor X is doing or has done previously.
Competitor obsessive HiPPO knows it’s a way to ‘fast follow’ but kills the company slowly but surely.
Ways to tackle The Competitor Obsessive: Remind them of who your company is and why your company and department are there, identify growth opportunities your competitors haven't and suggest test and learn programmes. Sometimes it is a case of a 'doing it better' than competitor rather than just copying. It might be tit for tat to begin with but this will work, especially with results.

10. The Stakeholder
The Stakeholder HiPPO believes they are close to the people, they ask to be treated like one of the stakeholders and their go to answer is:
"What does this mean for the stakeholder?’.
Stakeholder HiPPO do not understand the stakeholder, or likely they do not understand 'the customer' or the team underneath them.
Ways to tackle The Stakeholder: Show the HiPPO the actual feedback, ensure your teams are giving the feedback, go further than NPS and just great feedback, good, bad and ugly feedback will help them see it for how it really is and realign their ideas of representing the stakeholder. One example that has worked is asking the team and the customer to record quick videos and share them as a video to the HiPPO to watch. They often will kick back but educate with kindness.


These HiPPOs aren’t always doing the right thing. Or they like to think they are.
Many HiPPO’s don’t know any better… doesn’t make it right!

Make sure you aren't one of these HiPPO's!

If you are one or a combo of these HiPPO's happily reach out to improve your strategy and culture.

Alternatively share within your management email group or slack channel and get feedback!

HiPPO get help

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