“I’m the one who decides what we do around here”, are words I’ve never said. But, as leader, my actions have spoken them way to often!
Our executive team meeting that day was like many I had attended. All the Vice Presidents were sharing weekly department updates. On this particular day, a direct report was in attendance with me to deliver an update on a corporate project that our division was in charge of completing. He did a great job! He was engaging and connected well with everyone. His presentation was clear and people saw how his plan could help us win as an organization.
He was so good that our Executive VP let him know he was the perfect person to be leading the project and that he should run with the ideas he presented. Poised and polished would be two words I could have used to compliment him. But, I didn’t. Instead, once the meeting was over and we were walking back to our offices, I pulled him aside and said, “Hey, let’s make sure we are on the same page. Before you run with the ideas you presented in the meeting, I’d like you to run them buy me again, this time in greater detail. Before you act on them, let me take a look. Sound good?”
This incident wasn’t the only time I behaved in a controlling way. It was a habit. Those days I believed that if you’re the person sitting at the head of the table or carrying the card with the higher title, it’s your job to tell other people what to do. I was afraid that if people were valuable on their own, without me, then that made my position vulnerable. I was also jealous. I wanted the praise. When a leader behaves the way I did that day, there are consequences. They’re not pretty.
For me, my actions resulted in a member of my team doubting his abilities. He was super confused because I told him how confident I was in him while also indicating I wanted to see everything he was planning to do before he acted on it. I managed him into a fear of speaking up, stepping out, or crossing the line. My actions confused him to the point where he was no longer sure exactly what he was and was not responsible for in his role. Did anyone nominate me for executive of the year? Uh, no that’s a negative. As is always the case, I reaped exactly what I had sown. My bad habits produced a culture of doubt, criticism, cynicism, fear, and eventually jeopardized the morale and productivity of more than 30 people under my direction. I was a leader who had lost the confidence of my followers.
Today, in my work as an executive coach, I come across leaders from time to time who believe they have to stay in control in order to be valuable. They talk about empowering their team but they act in a controlling manner. Like me on that day outside the boardroom, they are unaware of the negative impact their business behavior is having on their leadership influence. The get caught in the trap of believing their intentions to empower others overcomes their behavior to the contrary. It doesn’t work that way.
It takes a secure leader to empower a team. As my experience testifies, an insecure leader can’t empower because there is too much at risk personally for the leader. The only option with this attitude is to control. No matter how nicely you do it, controlling is still controlling. Neither your personality nor your competence will ever make up for your faulty leadership behavior.
As leaders, we are affecting people with our words and actions. We are influencing others. The question is for better or worse. Do people act on your directives because there job description says they have to or are they acting on them because they want to do it? When a person feels empowered at work they’re more likely to be producing from a “want-to mentality”. How much do you think my lack of leadership ability was costing our organization with a team of “have-to” followers, churning out redundant work and sitting in endless meetings needed to keep me in control of people? It was costly indeed!
Thankfully, if you happen to find your story is eerily similar to mine, you too can change the ending. Just like me, you can face the reality of where you are failing to empower and make a decision to build new habits that will increase your influence on your team for the better. Most likely you’ve never set out to sabotage your team, but until you get intentional about building habits to prevent it, you’re at risk of doing just that. To make lasting changes in my behavior and create a more productive team environment, I focused on accountability and worked out of a few key principles. When you’re ready to start empowering instead of controlling others, here’s what you can do.
How To Empower Others Instead Of Controlling Them
W. Shane McKenzie is an executive coach who helps leaders achieve greater effectiveness and become more fulfilled in their work by facilitating positive changes in their leadership behaviors. Want to learn more about working with Shane to transform your leadership? Visit ww.wshane.com
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W. Shane McKenzie is an Executive Coach and Mentor who specializes in helping successful leaders leave their job to own a business using proven strategies to minimize risk.