The scariest part of leadership is letting go of control and trusting others to do the right things and make the right decisions. The concept of control underpins hierarchical organizations – the person above controls the actions and decisions of the persons below. This structure has been used for millennia by military, religious, and commercial organizations. These people are managers; they “manage” persons and other resources.
But what if a leader, instead of insisting on detailed control, does something entirely different? What if a leader co-creates the vision and mission, and goals and objectives and strategies, with his or her people? What if a leader then turns them loose to be as great as they can be, and supports them as they try new ideas? What if a leader gives a prize annually for the best new idea that failed? What would that type of organization be like? Unstoppable. Because in that organization, each individual will feel supported and challenged to be all they can be. They will bring everything they’ve got to work every day. And they will collaborate with colleagues to create programs, products, and services that delight customers and increase profits.
So what’s so scary about this? The leader has to give up the illusion of control. It’s an illusion, because we can only truly control those things over which we have one more degree of freedom, which we obviously do not have with fellow humans. However, our society expects and even demands that leaders “be in control” of their company or department. So the leader needs to change from creating controls to insure proper behavior, to instead being effective at inspiring people and nurturing guiding principles.
This transition is a little like learning how to float and swim. When I was younger I was deathly afraid of the water; I would stand in a corner of the swimming pool and shiver. My parents insisted that I take swimming classes. I finally decided to quit fighting the water and trust it to hold me up. It was scary, but it worked! I got hooked on swimming and even earned my lifeguard certificate. Once a leader quits controlling the employees and trusts them to help the organization thrive, they get hooked on the results AND the process – the only question they ask is why they didn’t do this sooner.
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