Controlling leadership can be a very tempting habit for leaders, especially those who come from a background of performing technical work. It’s a challenging situation, because where these leaders used to deal with the technical details, they now are “hands off” and cannot directly influence the outcome.
This can be stressful for managers who may feel they lack control and are at the mercy of their teams. Of course, this is not really true.
Managers are in a position of influence and authority. You can certainly influence the way that work happens in your team, you just won’t necessarily do the work yourself.
In this post, we’re going to look at some ways to make sure that you feel more comfortable with the work in your team, without resorting to controlling leadership.
I’m Ultimately Accountable for the Work of My Team. So What’s Wrong With Controlling Leadership?
Unfortunately, the issue with controlling leadership is that it completely destroys the autonomy of your team members. If you start making the technical decisions and closely monitoring what everyone does, you take control away from your team.
Autonomy is the degree to which your team members feel as if they are able to control the work they do. Having autonomy means team members can shape their own work, and have a larger say in how they do it.
When team members have autonomy, they are more likely to feel motivated. The last thing we want is to take total control and destroy that motivation.
My experience tells me that an unmotivated team is more likely to make mistakes and less likely to spend extra effort to get the work done well. After all, why would they bother, when you’re controlling the situation so tightly?
How Can We Stop Controlling Leadership and Be More Comfortable?
Fear not! There are a few great ways that we can become more comfortable, without having complete control. Let’s look at some of these ways right now.
1. Stop Controlling Leadership by Setting Clear Expectations
To help you get comfortable, you need to start by setting expectations with your team. There are a number of different parts to this, which are covered later in this post.
Firstly, make sure you set clear expectations about the oversight that you expect to have with your team members. Next, you need to set expectations about how you expect them to track progress. Then, clearly state how you want your team members to communicate with you.
And last, but certainly not least, you need to set expectations regarding when the work is required, the quality of the work that is needed and any constraints regarding how you need the work done.
Setting clear expectations is the first part of holding people accountable. When your team members know what you expect, they’re more likely to be able to perform to your satisfaction. And if they don’t, you have created the conditions to be able to hold them accountable for their performance.
2. Maintain the Right Oversight
Maintaining oversight is critical when you’re leading a team. Without any oversight, you’ll quite rightly feel vulnerable and out of control.
The trick to being comfortable is to be able to maintain the right amount of oversight, without destroying autonomy in your team. Getting this right depends on the motivation, skills and experience levels of your team members.
The figure below is commonly referred to as the “Will and Skill” matrix, which can help you decide the best approach.
People with higher motivation tend to spend more discretionary effort and take more care in the work, because they are more invested in the outcome. Highly skilled and experienced team members in the task at hand are obviously more likely to accomplish it more easily, with fewer issues.
As such, you generally need to have less oversight over your experienced and motivated team members than people who are unmotivated or less experienced.
For example, you might meet your experienced and motivated senior team member once per week for a progress update. You might instead choose to meet your junior team member every day for a short “stand up” to understand how the work is tracking.
3. Stop Controlling Leadership by Having a Way to See Progress
To make sure you don’t feel as if things are spiralling our of control, it’s important to make sure you can see progress. Face to face updates are good, but being able to measure progress is the next step.
The method you choose will obviously depend on the nature of work that you do, but some simple ways to track progress are to:
- Make a Plan: Set deadlines and document a plan for the work. You’ll be able to assess progress by looking at how much of the work has progressed, when compared to the milestones that should have been achieved.
- Track the Work: A task management system is useful to see task status and progress. Even if this starts as a simple spreadsheet, this can be enough to help your team members show progress without having to deliver an update to you in person each time.
Having a way to see progress means that you can keep up to date with your team’s work and have oversight of progress in a systematic way. Combined with regular contact with your team, these aspects will contribute to helping you feel more calm and in-control of the work at hand.
4. Create a Culture of Open Communication
Now, you have some good oversight through regular contact with your team members and managing the work through some sort of system. The last piece of the puzzle to help you feel more comfortable is to encourage open communication in your team.
Open communication will help you to remain aware of issues and roadblocks in your team even outside of your regular contact with team members, because they’ll feel comfortable bringing them to you.
When a team is fearful of bringing issues to their manager, communication suffers. You’ll be more likely to be caught by surprise if you’re in this situation.
Here are some good ways to start opening up communication channels in your team:
Let Go of the Blame Game
If people come to you with issues and you start laying blame, they aren’t going to come to you again. Instead, have a constructive conversation about how you could all do better next time and come up with a plan to move forward.
Accept Your Part in the Situation
As leaders, we all have a part to play in team success, as well as team failure. Accept your failings in the situation and let your team know how you’ll address them for next time.
Maybe you needed more oversight, or your team member didn’t have the right skills. Whatever the case, you have a part to play, so own up to it.
Be More Present and Available
Allocate time specifically for your team to spend with you, if you find yourself inaccessible for most of the day. Book it in, communicate it and stick to it to make yourself available.
On another note, it’s also easy for phones and laptops to distract us. When your team does come to you, put your distracting devices away and give them your undivided attention.
This helps to show that you’re actually listening, and they might just come back and talk to you again.
Act on Feedback
If your team members are having challenges with their work, listening is just the start. The next step is acting on their feedback and trying to remove roadblocks that are stopping them.
If you listen but don’t take action, people may regard you as ineffective or feel that you don’t really think their problems are worth solving.
Leaders can certainly feel vulnerable when they don’t have control over the work like they used to.
Make sure you set expectations, maintain oversight, track progress and create a culture of open communication. If you do, you’re well on your way to becoming more confident without having to resort to controlling leadership.
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What are some other ways that you feel more comfortable with being a more “hands off” leader? I’d love to read them in the comments below.