As someone with controlling tendencies, John C. Maxwell’s quote, “Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in your charge” is a flashing amber sign.
It’s challenging to loosen the reigns, especially as your scope of responsibility expands and the pressure to perform mounts.
I once made the mistake of agreeing to take responsibility for part of a direct report’s portfolio because I was extremely worried about them burning out. It seemed like the responsible thing to do, but in hindsight, the person was inadvertently disempowered, and their confidence was damaged.
It was a classic case of trying to control the uncontrollable and the perverse consequences that can result.
This experience taught me an important lesson about leadership: trying to control everything can stifle creativity, hinder the emergence of better options, and ultimately damage the team.
It’s like keeping a baby bird in its nest to keep it safe but then realising too late that you’ve stopped it from learning to fly.
In her book Dare to Lead, University of Houston research professor, Brene Brown notes that leaders unaware of their controlling tendencies can inadvertently damage relationships, limit creativity, and hinder growth.
As difficult as it may be, letting go and trusting your team is essential.
Instead of trying to control everything, you need to loosen up. Yes, I know, it’s easier to say than do when there’s a lot at stake.
But it’s worth it!
It’s not about letting your team sink or swim. It’s about setting clear parameters to provide the rigour needed to achieve deliverables while at the same time, giving your team the space to experiment, try new things, and take ownership.
The good news is a positive correlation between team members who perceive a strong link between their actions, expected goals and outcomes, and successful task performance.
Explore how you can foster creativity and innovation and tap into the inherent motivations of team members with an internal locus of control i.e. those who believe that they are the masters of their fate and, tend to be more confident, alert, and directive in attempting to influence their external environment.
And because attempting to control situations that cannot be controlled can lead to negative attitudinal or behavioural outcomes you should consider including what it’s okay for your team to ignore or not do when setting parameters. Help your team focus on what is most important and ignore the less important noise surrounding them.
Don’t just permit your team to carve out time to create a safe space for sharing their ideas and concerns. Expect it! Encourage open communication and constructive feedback and be willing to listen to what your team has to say.
Pay attention to your behaviours and use self-reflection to identify your patterns of habit and thinking and where you’re struggling to let go of control.
If you want a team who externalises and is totally dependent on you to get anything done, then by all means hold those reigns as tight as you can. You’ll end up with a nest of birds unable to fly alone while others leave the nest as soon as possible.