Just what, exactly, is all that control doing for you?
Insights are everywhere.
On October 18th, I accompanied my 9-year old daughter to a birthday party for a younger cousin.
We had a fantastic time. During the party, the kids, both the younger ones and the older ones, were playing with (helium) balloons.
When it came time to leave, my daughter–an artistic, free spirit with a penchant for unique insights–walked outside of the home, balloon held firmly by the ribbon in her hand, before everyone else.
I watched her look to the sky, slowly release her balloon, and watch it with a big smile on her face as it floated away into the evening sky.
Many, many of instances of an unfettered balloon have led to tears in my family (no, not from 9 year-olds, but still).
I stepped outside and said to her: “Oh, no! You lost your balloon.”
Her response? “No, I let it go.”
Her: “Because I like to watch them fly away.”
I was so impressed.
She gained happiness from releasing a balloon that she could have otherwise kept tethered as it lost its buoyancy without ever reaching greater heights. And, guess what? 2 other kids that walked out at that moment let theirs go after hearing her explanation.
It was contagious, and fun.
That moment was a reminder to me of an important leadership concept that I have learned and mentioned to groups over time: The concept of leading with an open hand. Letting go of ground level control in order to allow talent to find its own level in anticipation of greater things.
Management gurus talk about openness, collaboration, encouraging autonomy, and empowerment all the time. All of these are easy, fun words to throw around. Even the worst leaders I’ve encountered believe in these words as management tools.
It’s the actions behind these words that are hard.
They are hard because your own early leadership development (in your early career, parenting, or otherwise) depended on skills that actually become success inhibitors the more you and your children, employees, or other influencees progress.
Maturing as a parental or organizational leader of any sort means that:
- You go from directing your children (iron fist, velvet glove) to influencing them.
- You go from managing people (plan and do) to leading them (check and adjust).
- You go from a problem solving approach that revolves around telling the process and answer to one that revolves around asking the right questions and motivating people.
- You go from a resource deployment approach that is essentially a zero ambiguity, zero sum budgeting and directing process to one that is more about allocating, iterating, and “growing the pie.”
- You go from a people development approach that revolves around “your” people to one that revolves around “their” careers.
All of these are examples of moving from a closed handed approach (tight control, turf, ownership, and direction) to an open handed one (guiding, influencing, motivating, cultivating, and freeing).
Figuring this out just might be the difference between admirable management success and true executive competence.
Some never do figure it out; and it shows.
Be willing to release your people, your agendas, and your resources in order to stretch and test them. It might bring you satisfaction beyond what control ever could.
After all, a balloon tethered to the ground is impressive; but not nearly as impressive as one surfing the wind.
If you love something, set it free. Let things go to see if they grow. You can regain control, but you might never find out what is possible if you don’t merely set expectations and then allow the slack for your people to explore, learn, and grow.
You might unlock more joy and success, not to mention trust and confidence, in the process.
And, it might be contagious.
Geoff Wilson hopes that his children grow up with an understanding of how much they have inspired him.