Traditional leaders get their power from authority and control. Modern leaders find power in connection. Connection starts between the leader and the team, and a good leader also builds connection between the people on the team. No longer does everyone come to the leader like a hub-and-spoke, but the leader creates communication channels that they are not even part of.
But we still need SOME control right? When I talk about giving up control, traditional leaders get very nervous. “How will I know what’s going on?” “How will I know if I need to step in and take over?” Notice where these questions come from. Do they come from a place of getting the best result or is it still from a place of needing control? Or do they come from a place of fear? What if we continually exceed revenue targets, and you don’t have a detailed report? Let’s flip it around, what if we miss revenue targets and you don’t have a detailed report? “Heads will roll!” “I’ll light a fire under the team!” Will your actions fix the problem in a sustainable way? What if you focused on making sure the team was connected around the target, and misalignments were ironed out?
Vulnerability creates Power. What happens when we expect everything to go according to plan? “We know what to do, now go do it!” What if a leader said “We think we have an idea on how to meet the target. Let’s go see if we’re right. And if not, let’s come up with some alternatives” That doesn’t “seem” leader-like. Leaders know, leaders are confident! Yes, in movies that might be true, but in real life, it doesn’t inspire people to join in the thinking. In fact, the need to be perfect, just like the leader, leads to some really dysfunctional behavior. Because if you’re not perfect, or if the plan is flawed, you better make sure no one knows it.
Create Connection. How do great leaders create connection? They let people talk to each other! Have you ever worked in a place where no one will talk to anyone unless they have gone up through their bosses or boss’ bosses? They call it ‘protocol’. That’s a fancy word for ‘don’t talk to each other’. And then they ask “how can we create a process to communicate better?” You don’t need a process, you need a dismantling of BS! The process is “go talk to each other”. You don’t need a flow chart for this.
Leaders that create connection redirect requests for permission. Let’s walk that through. You go to a leader to ask if you should use vendor A or B. She tells you to go decide with your team and relevant business partners. Or how about this one, you bring a status report to your boss, and he says “Anything blocking you that I can help with? Otherwise, I don’t really need a status report just for me, I’ll take whatever status the team is using.” Do you see how this leader is redirecting people to collaborate with each other instead of looking for control points?
Brain Twist. We are all leaders in the sense that we all have an opportunity to take responsibility for our world. Even if you are not in a traditional position of authority, you can influence a shift from control to connection. Find a report at work that’s not effective. What small thing can you do to build connection amongst the consumers of this report? Often a status report is so dry that it misses the real risk that it’s trying to convey. I dare you to ask, out loud in a meeting, “what could cause us to fail?” There’s no amount of task tracking that can compare to the discussion that will emerge.