Ellie Mirman's Startup Marketing Blog

Succeed By Losing Control

Posted by Ellie Mirman

Nov 29, 2010

birds flyingI have yet to hear any stories of a leader or manager succeeding by having strict control over a project or team. Again and again, it seems the key to success is a scary one: losing control.

This came up again in a recent article in Harvard Business Review suggesting that leaders should strive to overwhelm themselves. The example in this article was a leadership workshop where the workshop leader intentionally created such chaos that the situation drove the participants to step up and become leaders themselves. Sure, it sounds like a crazy and ineffective idea but how do you think that experience impacted the participants? They got to experience first-hand how to step up and be a leader.

This approach ends up working more broadly in business or any project you may lead. So, why is losing control so important? Losing control...

... encourages creative problem solving.

If you go into a project with a plan and complete control so that your team executes on that plan, all you will ever do is execute on your own ideas. And as brilliant as you may be, the best ideas come from diverse and creative problem solving that you don't allow if you have complete control.

... attracts top performers.

Top performers crave the freedom to create and execute on their own ideas. Micromanaging them will make them feel no ownership or excitement about their project. As Peter Bergman, the article's author, puts it, "People check out. They feel no ownership. They work the minimum. And things fall through the cracks." Top performers don't want to be micromanaged and will eventually leave, and you'll only be left with sub-par performers who must be micromanaged, demanding your time for every project they do.

... inspires other team members.

This was the newest insight I drew from this article. Bergman poses the common objection, "But wait a second. It sounds great but what if everyone in an organization stepped into their own leadership? What if everyone followed his own impulse? Wouldn't that lead to anarchy?"

What it comes down to is the strength of the organization and clarity of purpose, values, and culture. Bergman goes on, "The culture? If we know what we're doing, why we're doing it, what's important to us, and how we operate, then there will be trust, focused action, and abundant, unified leadership." What I find so brilliant about this insight is that, by losing control, you actually build a focused and productive team around you all working towards your goal. In effect, you double, triple, or quadrouple your impact by losing control.

Now it's time to try out this brilliant approach.

Flickr photo by azizul

Topics: work life

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