Control has a lot of appeal. It’s probably the reason most people get into leadership roles. But it’s overrated. The more complex the leadership settings I get into, the more I realize that there are so many factors that are utterly impossible to control. In Leading with a Limp, Dan Allender points out the illusions and pitfalls of trying to maintain control of complex situations, crises and chaos. Control is an illusion, he says. A controlling leader tries to limit chaos and uncertainty. Instead, they should be embraced as part of the creative process.
The only solution I’ve found to the pitfalls of control is to give it away. Not to have it taken by prying apart my dead fingers, but to consciously choose to give it away. Give what away? Over the next few posts, I’ll unpack a couple of ideas.
Give power away
Autocratic leadership is a trap. It is self-limiting. The only way to accomplish all that we’re asked to do as leaders is to empower those around us to make decisions. In The Leadership Jump, Jimmy Long says:
Existing leaders have to realize that we are not the only ones who can drive; there are younger leaders who know how to drive better in this new and increasingly technological culture.
Long calls these emerging leaders “indigenous people.” To one who appreciates technology but is never completely comfortable with it, that phrase says it all. Call me “crosscultural.”The fact is that those from younger generations can do things in their sleep that require a lot of effort from those of us from earlier generations.
Long goes on to draw from a Harvard Business Review article by Deborah Ancona called “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader.”
As existing leaders are willing to admit that they are incomplete and need others, and are willing to share the leadership with others on the team, then together they can get extraordinary things done.
Team leadership breaks past any one leader’s limitations. But let’s get practical. How do you get started? Long suggests offering well-structured questions to draw emerging leaders into the process of discovering the answers together. Dr. Steven Sample offers another simple but radical suggestion in The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership: never make a decision that could be made by someone else. In other words, continually push decisions down. You’ll accomplish a lot more while you’re in your position, and you’ll leave your mark on the next few generations of leaders.
We actually gain power by giving it away. It is a different kind of power. Instead of it being the power of control, it is the power of relationship, the power of shared decision making, the power of blessing.