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Letting go in leadership

So much is written about what makes a “good” leader. The traits they need to possess. Who does a good job, who does a bad job.

It’s something which, in my opinion, is over-analysed.

For me, it’s pretty simple.

A leader’s primary purpose is to provide a vision. A collective purpose. A clear direction.

Leaders don’t need to be “doing the doing”. They definitely shouldn’t take the glory for the work of others.

Instead, they should be helping to remove bottlenecks in stuff getting done, and laying the foundations for a team to perform.

Often, those at the top ARE the bottlenecks that prevent their people, and their organisations, from realising their full potential.

If someone at the top insists that every idea or piece of work goes through them, the business will ultimately grind to a halt. Layer this up multiple times, and it’s little surprise that many larger firms have a reputation of not getting anything done.

It can be frustrating, and sometimes unfulfilling for someone that moves into a position where they need to lead others, particularly if their previous roles have been more “hands on”.

It can take a lot to let go.

But a large part of building a successful culture is giving people the autonomy to make their own decisions. Try new ideas. Make mistakes. Have control.

In times of crisis, such as the one many businesses face now with the huge economic downturn caused by Coronavirus, it can be tempting for leaders to fall back into being more “hands-on”.

Of course, leaders should not shy away from their responsibilities. Particularly in tough times, a leader should be present and available whenever they need to be. They’ll often need to be there to make some imaginably tough calls.

But go too much the other way and the impact will be one of frustration. A feeling of being stifled. Of being micro-managed.

These feelings can kill the one thing that can help businesses survive in times like this – creativity. Good, creative ideas will usually come from those on the ground.

Good leaders don’t need to know everything. But they do need to be willing to listen to the experts around them – often the experts they themselves have employed.

We can see examples of that across the world right now, by the way various countries have approached their response to dealing with the global pandemic. The countries that seem to be suffering the most tend to have leaders that:

  • Have ignored their experts’ advice
  • Have insisted that only their way is the right way
  • Have been the main bottleneck in making progress

For me, leadership is to be present without being overbearing. To be there to guide, without being controlling. To provide a crystal clear vision, and to trust the team you employed to implement it.

It’s understanding when to let go.

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