First, it’s not about handing over control – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
I remember saying in extreme frustration to a leader once: “Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to do, rather than having me guess. If what I want to do doesn’t agree with you, you’ll overrule me anyway. So tell me what you want and I’ll go do it.” This leader had effectively reduced my willingness to think and solve on my own because he “had the right answers” and I wasn’t great at mind reading. He thought he knew best and was trying to lead me to his answers. This brought out the worst in me. Manipulative and frustrating, this leadership behaviour can be anticipated because it is still mostly what is being taught to leaders even in graduate programs – know the way, show the way, formulate your strategy, create buy-in. And in the real world, this happens at every level of traditional leadership.
Compounding this, we often create dependency on leaders for decisions and direction (this sucks when you realize it). After all as leaders we get paid to have the right answers? This causes people to minimize thinking; it becomes safer and easier for people to become little zombies walking around being told what to do. No thinking, no ownership, not my problem.
However, your performance as a leader is: your ability to create an environment for success where people bring their best, achieve results, and actually want to work. Everyone then is able to think, solve, build, own it.
Let’s walk through how this topic typically comes up.
Leader’s Problem: “I am getting pulled in 20 different directions, I am only one human, I am not doing the things I need to do to move the business forward because everyone needs me for something.” Whew! (but… there’s a little reward in being needed, and it’s fun to solve problems, even though it’s exhausting and often counterproductive)
Leader’s Thinking: “I know I need to give up more control to my team, how do I actually do that?”
Force working against you: If you’re seeing this as “giving up” or as “losing” control, it is a perceived threat to your very survival, you’re likely to sabotage and unlikely to create real change.
The good news is that you can create capacity in tiny steps for people to take psychological ownership – the feeling that something is ours, “owning it”, taking responsibility, control, decisions. If you’re serious about shifting and enabling your team to create more success… shift your own thinking and how you show up, and others will shift around you. This has been proven by hundreds of leaders I have worked with, every single time.
Consider the forces you can leverage to work with you:
- What do you have to shift in yourself in order to create the environment that others take more control?
- What’s your reward in that, what’s the payoff?
Possibility: Get out of your own way. Practice & experiment to enable and build others; create psychological ownership in others. Multiply your success by multiplying it in others.
Pro Tips: Shift to Create Value by Enabling Others
- Above ALL, be transparent with your intention to grow and to try something new. Making people read your mind or wonder why you’re being weird will fail. My go-to comment was “I’m practicing getting out of your way. Where are you waiting on me? Let’s figure out how you can move in small steps, not wait. I’m going to ask you some questions to help you think through it and we’ll come up with ideas to try.”
- Approach situations with: What would a leader do whose thinking is “I create exponential success by enabling my team in tiny steps so they can adapt.” Therein you will find your ideas.
- This is all about practicing new thinking – the “how” will come to you; experiment.
- Everyone is always winning. What if your behaviour is creating theirs…
- Remember, your performance as a leader IS your ability to enable team performance.
The situation below contrasts an example. Remember this isn’t column A or column B – it is a transition through a thousand tiny steps. You are creating the future or reinforcing the present every moment.
Example Situation: team is aware of problem that needs to be solved, need to meet to discuss
|‘Be Valuable’ by Holding Control||Create Value by Enabling Others|
|Control oriented thinking in Team: “We need Leader there to decide, to provide input, to be aware. We should not take action without clearing it first.”|
Fear: “It’s safer if Leader knows and decides.”
|Ownership oriented thinking in Team: “Let’s discuss together and figure out a small step we can take towards the ideal outcome. We should act, and let Leader know afterwards.” |
Trust: “Leader would want us to act.”
|Control oriented thinking in the Leader: |
“Yes of course I’ll be there, they invited me, they obviously need me. They need me to provide direction, they need my expertise and they want me involved. They don’t know.”
Fear: “What if they decide “wrong”, or what if they realize they don’t need me”
|Ownership oriented thinking in the Leader: |
“These are capable people, and even if it’s a sidestep, it will be a small one. We can move the company forward as fast as they are stepping. These people love working with me as a leader because they are empowered.”
Empowerment: “We are multiplying capacity”
|Payoff to leader: “Yes, I am needed and important, I know things that others don’t know.” I have things under control, I am in control.||Payoff to leader: “Wow, it’s amazing what I’ve enabled the team to accomplish through small steps.” I am creating momentum.|
|How: hear problems, provide solutions, give direction, allow movement through your centralized decision making.||How: hear problems, ask questions to stimulate thinking for solutions, refocus on the Why & outcomes, enable small steps through distributed decision-making.|
|The problems leader solves are: |
Putting out fires oriented – situations with others, clients, jumping in to do things
|The problems leader solves are: |
Navigation oriented – roadblocks to team speed, shifting environment, culture, vision
|Leader’s calendar mostly: solving problems, fighting fires, driving results |
“Being needed, providing direction”
|Leader’s calendar mostly: creating the future, enabling people/culture/results |
“Creating the environment for momentum”
|Focus: immediate present; singularity|
Skills: giving answers, decisions, influencing
Value: I direct the Why, What & How; move people in the same direction
|Focus: now and future vision; multiplicity|
Skills: asking better questions, elevating people
Value: I give Why, this enables What & How; people pull in same direction