Great leadership has nothing to do with making everyone do what you say. It’s not about controlling anyone or anything.
Great leadership is about letting go – surrendering to what is.
“To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!'”— Lao-Tzu
Misconceptions About Great Leaders
In some cultures, people think leadership is about commanding, issuing orders, and making everything fall into place.
That may have been effective in the 1950’s or in the modern-day military, but great leaders in organizations today are those who know that letting go fosters innovation, collaboration, and a sense of belonging, being a valued member of a team.
It remains prevalent today where control is viewed as strength while surrender is viewed as weakness. Yet as Mike Myatt points out in Forbes, “Society has labeled surrender as a sign of leadership weakness, when in fact, it can be among the greatest of leadership strengths.”
Myatt makes it clear: Surrendering isn’t about giving up.
It’s about letting go – getting out of the way – and by doing so, allowing others to be influenced by your example.
As a result, the walk-on-eggshells atmosphere of a controlling leader, where employees feel squashed by micromanagement and worn from being treated as misbehaved children is replaced by a positive and collaborative environment. Employees feel valued, their confidence buoyed – and innovation, initiative, and talents shine.
Avoid Scripting the Duties of Your Employees
Some leaders – who, in fact, are mere managers in this case – choose to lead by making their employees follow prescribed rules and regulations…much like an instruction sheet for putting together a gas grill, for example.
For most people trying to follow well intended step-by-step directions, the project falls short: instead of a sense of satisfaction from a completed job, frustration, annoyance, and irritation is the result.
Many employees feel that way about their jobs in the workplace.
Leaders may have good intentions by implementing flow charts, rules and directives and censoring any questions to their orders.
Yet all that results in is poor performance, high employee turnover and poor customer service.
A shining testament to letting go as a leader can be found in Jim Bush, who transformed American Express’ call centers. In Harvard Business Review, Rob Markey writes of Bush’s novel approach. His was unique, as American Express already had a high level of service for its call centers – he wasn’t hired to ‘fix’ anything.
But Bush could see even better. Like many companies, American Express had specific guidelines for call center employees, always with a watchful eye on reducing call time but increasing customer satisfaction. Yet turnover was high and employee morale low.
Bush decided that American Express needed to build relationships with their call customers. Rather than feel like they were talking to a computer, Bush wanted callers to feel as if they were talking to a human being – one that cared.
Impactful Leaders Lead by Letting Go
Bush led – by letting go. How?
- Tossed the call center scripted guidelines.
- Stopped limiting the time – allowing customers to speak – as human beings talking to real human beings.
- Modified the hiring practices, choosing employees with hospitality and retail experience.
- Renamed the job titles: switching from customer service reps to customer care professionals.
- Allowed reps to gauge their own time for each call.
The results? Customers were more approving, employee turnover dropped, and AmEx continues to win the J.D. Power customer service award in credit cards.
Great Leaders Don’t Need to Seek the Spotlight. They Naturally Shine
Society, as Mike Myatt points out in Forbes, is captivated by celebrities.
As a result, “the practice of servant leadership is antithetical to our human nature and our current culture.”
Personal success, he writes, is linked with how much we help others – rather than what we do for ourselves.
What’s holding you back from becoming a great leader, asks Myatt?
Effective leadership isn’t about control. It’s not about power.
“Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front”. – Nelson Mandela
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Colleen Slaughter, Proud Executive Coach to the UN World Food Program, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
As the Managing Partner of Authentic Leadership International (ALI) & a Women’s Leadership Coach, my highest intention in the business realm is to help women in positions of high influence to understand their worth at a profound level.
Supporting women leaders to truly thrive and step into their greatness, while succeeding in male-dominated industries and spaces is my native genius.
My technique and approach show you how to achieve incredible career success without compromising any part of who you are and what makes you magnificent.
Recently, my perspectives were featured in an article on the International Coach Federation’s website here.