Issue 07: holding on and letting go
We explore one of the most difficult questions for leaders: what to hold on to in order to keep the organisation on track, what to let go of so that the organisation can discover better pathways. Issue 07 includes client stories on PC World, Balfour Beatty Rail and Birmingham City Council, and chapters on the controlling leader, the enabling leader and leading on principle.
“The world is won by those who let it go.”
In this booklet, the seventh in our series, we explore one of the most difficult questions for leaders at all levels: what to hold on to in order to keep the organisation on track, what to let go of so that the organisation can discover better pathways.
The controlling leader
The challenge to leaders at all levels is simple but not easy: raise performance. The natural instinct is to set tough goals and clear measures, take all the significant decisions, challenge low standards, even create a bit of stress. And this works well to begin with as people respond to sharp priorities and firm direction.
But there comes a point when more control has the opposite effect. The objectives are no longer achieved. No-one shows initiative. Energy and enjoyment drain away. The business loses sight of the customer. Some people have quit, others have withdrawn their discretionary effort. The leader has to push and shove yet harder to make things happen. What has gone wrong?
Paradoxically, the cause is the control itself. More control means more decisions sucked to the top, more projects, procedures and targets, less elbow room to do what seems sensible on the ground. People keep their head down for fear of having it removed. They look inward and upward, not outward.
Nor does it work for the leader. Every scrap of organisational trivia appears on their desk for approval, every decision is run past them. At first this proves how right they were: people here really are not up to it! But soon, the burden of digesting all the data becomes intolerable. This way disaster lies.