Let go. Loosen up a little. Just relax.
Letting Go in Leadership…Really?
How many times do we hear phrases like the above on a daily basis? It seems they’ve become ubiquitous in our fast-paced, always-on world – so much so that we often overlook their deeper meaning, particularly when it comes to leadership.
“But isn’t letting go like giving up?” is a common question I hear. Truth be told, many of us struggle to make a connection between the concept of letting go and how it can inspire impactful leadership.
It can even seem counterproductive, especially in metrics-driven workplace cultures focused on “tightening the grip” and “cracking the whip” to achieve results at any cost.
Letting Go in Action (yes, it actually works)
An HBR article aptly titled “Leading by Letting Go” takes us through the story of how Jim Bush transformed American Express’s service operations over a decade ago. Here are some of the key points this article puts out:
Although American Express was considered to have excellent customer service even at that time, it was using the traditional “command-and-control” model at company call centers. This meant a focus on reducing costs, lowering call time averages, and emphasizing metrics and stats.
But Bush had a different vision. Instead of focusing purely on a financial perspective, he saw a model where real relationships between company and customer were built. In turn, this would be a major factor in setting American Express apart from its competitors, while driving future growth and increasing profits.
Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it? But there was just one major obstacle getting in the way: scripts, metrics, and endless company rules and regulations. Somehow all of that didn’t lend itself to building meaningful, caring relationships with customers.
Impactful Leaders Don’t Give Up – They Let Go
Like any impactful leader, Bush wasn’t one to give up. Well, maybe he was – but not in the way you might think. He let go, ditching the worn-out call scripts and the constant focus on averages and stats.
And he didn’t stop there.
Notable highlights of the key changes Bush made include:
- Updated the service rep title to customer care professional and gave them business cards, increased their salary and introduced more flexible hours.
- Developed a 4-part system designed to motivate customer service professionals to take the initiative to provide a high quality customer service experience.
- A key component of his system involved the concept of letting go, in keeping with his vision of building authentic relationships with customers and with staff. Although customer care professionals were well-trained in company policies and products, when it came to handling calls, they got to choose what they talked about – free of any scripts.
For anyone remotely familiar with American Express, the results of Bush’s leadership remain evident to this day: J.D. Power often ranks American Express “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Credit Card Companies.”
Now It’s Your Turn…3 Ways to Let Go
1- Deepen your relationships. Among the key ingredients to a formula for successfully letting go, trust is at the very top. Here’s how to build trust in your relationships with team members. When we feel a stronger sense of trust, it makes it easier to let go.
“When you set up a system that enables you to let go with confidence — to trust your employees to exercise their own judgment and learn from their experience — employees can become both self-directing and self-correcting. They become inspired, energetic, and enthusiastic. And the experience they deliver to customers is likely to be far better than anything you could ever control.”
2- Ditch destructive habits. Leadership is a continual process of learning and self-growth. We must be willing to take an honest look within to identify habits and behaviors that are not serving our highest good. Some common ones? Not listening, micromanaging, and overlooking important feedback.
This isn’t a once-and-you’re-done quick task – it’s an ever-evolving introspective journey. Once we recognize habits that aren’t helpful, what’s the next step? You guessed it: letting go of them. Turn to this article on going below the waterline for greater insight.
3- Be your true Self. When we’re grounded in who we are and strongly aligned with our core values, we can truly let our authentic selves shine. A side benefit? As we become more comfortable in our own skin, we’ll be in a better place to more easily let go. These authentic leadership tips will inspire you.
Bringing transparency into our everyday leadership activities gives us the opportunity to let our authentic selves shine in all that we do. As we become more transparent, we’re more likely to build cohesive, interactive teams that are willing to take on additional responsibility and to contribute to the greater good.
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Colleen Slaughter Raue, Managing Partner of Authentic Leadership International
Colleen is a transformational leadership coach who guides international leaders as they attain the clarity, courage and self-confidence necessary to realize higher levels of productivity and fulfillment in both their personal and professional lives.
Her purpose is to facilitate her clients’ transformation from limiting beliefs and self-doubts into a deeper, more powerful knowingness of how much they – and what they envision for themselves – truly matter.
Colleen’s perspectives were recently featured in an article on the International Coach Federation’s website here.