It can be tempting to try to take control of everything in your team, especially in fast-changing workplaces. Fear grips us as change happens and we feel as if we are powerless to stop it.
Some leaders resort to micromanagement, attempting to remain aware of every little thing that happens. It can be tempting to insert yourself into every meeting that involves your team, so you can “be across” everything.
It might feel counter-intuitive, but I’ve found the best way to take control of your team and your environment is actually to let go.
The Problem With Trying to Grab On Tighter
You’ve probably heard this metaphor about love being like a butterfly. It goes something like:
“Love is like a butterfly,
hold it too tight, it’ll crush,
hold it too loose, it’ll fly.”
Is leadership like love? Maybe, but that’s not the point here.
The point is that trying too hard to control your team will crush them, like the butterfly. You’ll stifle their independence and autonomy as you try to take control.
In an effort to take control, you might even forbid people from speaking with your team directly, making them contact you first. Some leaders tell their teams that they need to run everything past them, before doing anything at all.
If you keep holding on tighter to take control, all you will do is crush your butterfly.
Letting Go Is Challenging for Many Leaders
Letting go can be a scary concept, because leaders feel the need to be involved all the time. They like to be busy, in the thick of it.
You might also feel like you need to be “the boss” – the person who directs everything and makes every decision. In the “olden days” maybe that were true, but times have changed now.
Some leaders feel when they give up some control and accountability to their team, they lose power. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to generally be true.
When you show faith and trust in your team, it will often be rewarded with greater commitment from your team. Having a team committed to you and your direction is power, and you don’t need to be a controlling tyrant to get it.
Understanding What You Can Control and What You Can’t
It is worth keeping in mind the concept of the Sphere of Influence here. As shown below, leaders operate within the Sphere of Concern, Sphere of Influence and the Sphere of Control.
Your Sphere of Concern includes aspects of your environment that you are concerned about or interested in, but cannot influence or control directly. This might include things like the economy or the strategy set by your CEO.
The Sphere of Influence covers aspects that you can have some influence over, but cannot directly control or make decisions about. For example, you might be able to influence the approach taken by your manager, but you won’t be able to make decisions for them.
Your Sphere of Control includes aspects that you can directly make decisions for or take action on. Allocating work within your team is likely to be within your Sphere of Control, because you can make the decision yourself.
Take Control: How Letting Go Helps You
This concept is a little like some of the guidance given in Sun Tzu’s, “The Art of War”.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Yes I know, this isn’t a war. But the point is that we can take control of our team not by squeezing harder, but by letting go.
If that one didn’t work for you, how about this one from Bruce Lee?
Grabbing too tight to keep control will see you crack eventually, as a leader. If instead you bend with the wind, you’ll be in a better position to guide and support your team.
So how does this work? Let’s find out.
1. Letting Go Makes Others Feel More Accountable
When a leader tries to micromanage and control their team by taking on more of the responsibility themselves, they are prone to mistakes and burnout as they become overwhelmed.
Team members know they don’t need to actually put in as much effort, because their manager will be there to fix and control everything.
For example, if you make all the decisions for your people, your team members may become lazy and apathetic. “Why put in more effort when the boss always makes the call?”
Eventually, you become a crutch for your team as you try to control everything. Perhaps you review every piece of work, correct everything yourself and don’t let anybody send out the final version without your input.
Conversely, when you make it clear to your team that they are accountable for the quality of their work and the results, you start to see a shift in behaviour.
Team members feel compelled to get it right, because there is no safety net. If they fail, it’s on them. You’re not going to be there to pick up the pieces every time.
Letting go compels others to feel more accountable and invested in their own work. You don’t need to control your team, because they start to control themselves!
Accountability & Failure
Some leaders are scared of failure. “What if I make somebody accountable and they get it wrong?”
This is nothing to be scared of. In fact, it’s what accountability is all about. Your team won’t succeed at everything.
If your team members do fail at something, you know where they need development and where you can provide more support for next time.
On the other hand, when you control everything, you have no real sense of the strengths and weaknesses of your team, because you haven’t given them the opportunity to step up and take it on for themselves.
2. Letting Go Builds Confidence and Pride
Eventually, your team starts to understand that they are accountable for their work and results, and they begin to feel more invested.
As a result, when your team succeeds in their work, they start to build confidence and feel proud of what they have accomplished, particularly if the work is a stretch for them.
Team members tend to feel less interested and involved if their manager is constantly meddling in what they do.
This becomes a reinforcing pattern.
The more pride people have in their work, the more effort they will spend to deliver a great result. The more confident they feel, the more likely they feel they can succeed when they put in the effort.
When you start this cycle in your team, you’ll find that it builds and reinforces itself, compelling your people to go the extra mile, without you needing to be involved every step of the way.
3. Letting Go Frees Your Time to Help Team Members Succeed
When you become comfortable letting go, you will find that your free time increases. You no longer feel as if you need to monitor every move of your team, or check every single detail.
This doesn’t mean we completely ignore our team and let them do their own thing. It simply means we devote time to where it has the most value.
You can spend this time coaching and mentoring team members, providing support where people need it most. Instead of controlling, you’re guiding and developing your people.
You don’t develop people by doing everything for them. People learn when you help them do it for themselves. Eventually, their confidence will build and you won’t need to be present each time and you can move onto the next challenge.
Free Yourself and Gain Control
As you can see, trying to gain control of your team by grabbing on tighter and tighter, monitoring every move and making every decision is actually the opposite of what we should be doing.
It’s like trying to grab water – you can’t do it. The more you try, the more it spills.
However, you can guide water, by adjusting the channel through which it should flow. This is the same way we need to be guiding our teams.
Taking a step back and holding your people accountable for their work helps them feel compelled to do a good job. When your team are accountable, they know that if they don’t do the work, nobody else will.
If you’re always hovering in the background ready to get stuck into the detail, your team will feel no need to stretch themselves. They know you’ll just fix things for them.
Start letting go to take control.
What do you think about this topic – do you agree or disagree? Let all the Thoughtful Leaders know in the comments below!