In the last post I mentioned that what CEOs want today – more leaders, innovation and the collaborative behavior that produces these – all require CEOs learning to collaborate themselves, which in turn feels like giving up control.
So how to do you give up controlling every decision, yet keep control of what counts and why don’t we? Oddly giving others input seems like just basic common sense to about 18% of leaders according to many research studies. For the other 82% it seems downright impossible. So what’s the secret to doing it and why do so many miss it?
The secret is simple. You never really give up control, but you don’t have to show you have it every day, every minute. The more you encourage others to contribute and try pilots of new ideas, the more you actually have to work with. As we used to say frequently, “People know how to read the organization chart.” They know the CEO can ultimately veto or reverse direction on anything. They don’t have to be told this. They understand that some projects won’t make it off the drawing board because they conflict with others. The same is true for every leader in every division or team – decisions have to get made. It might not always be palatable for bosses to veto things, but they can.
So why don’t more bosses take the risk of encouraging people to develop ideas? There seem to be two reasons. First, bosses are where they are because the passionately pursued THEIR ideas and those worked. On arriving at the higher level they naturally feel they’re the best and no one can do it as well as they can. Anyone else’s ideas seem fraught with uncertainties. Second, unless the boss is willing to let another person run the risks and possibly accept something not as good as they think they could produce themselves, they put a stop to it. Sometimes they think, ‘good idea, but let’s find a better way or keep it till I have time to figure out a better approach or person to lead it.’ Sometimes they see a conflict and sometimes it’s just not their idea.
In fact, as the boss, you can be highly encouraging. You don’t want to give the impression that every idea will be tried or the ones that are attempted will necessarily be followed right to the end. But the core idea of leadership is that you get others to take initiative, try things, work at them without your supervision of the details even when there is some risk they will fail or produce less than you think you could. It’s developing a learning organization, with learning people populating it that eventually adds up to more than you could do yourself.
You trust them and coach them to use judgment and remind them of this as often as you need to. You remind them of the need to start small, to pilot ideas before asking for big bucks, to automatically look for savings just as you would whenever considering spending on something. In other words you welcome them as adults and colleagues who can work ‘as if’ they were you. When you question them it is for information you genuinely need to understand, not so you can show you know better. Your questions may well lead them to question their steps as well and that’s perfectly fine as long as you don’t rub it in if they realize they are off track. Be polite, be respectful, be interested, curious and concerned with positive outcomes.
When you congratulate people on progress, you encourage them to bring you things they need you to do, support or troubleshoot. As long as you’re in the loop and keeping up with what’s being worked on, there is no danger of things getting dangerously out of control before you can intervene to redirect. During these discussions, lengthy or brief, you offer your ideas, too. You are one of the team, everyone contributes, but others take the lead on projects with your coaching behind the scenes. You give them credit for great results and you share the blame when ‘we’ make a mistake and have to backtrack. “Mistakes happen.”
By being involved, being present, being helpful so people are glad to have you engaged and keen to report their progress, you stay on top and you really do get into everything just as much as you might have under a command and control structure. This way you keep it moving and shaping toward what works rather than simply cutting ideas off before they are even tested.