While writing another article, about thinking differently, I bumped across a famous quote from George Patton: “If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.”
It has long been my personal leadership style not to control people. It is a difficult preposition for a total control-freak like me. If left to my own devices, I would make sure that every single person from my team was doing exactly as I instructed them. Indeed, I wrongly and accidentally tried this approach very early in my career. While effective in some sick way, it caused problems that are broadly shared by all teams under iron-fist bosses.
Firstly, and not surprisingly, team members become frustrated. As time goes by, they realize that they are simple puppets on the hands of a few people. Performance automatically drops as motivation gets lower. The traditional approach to bosses under these settings is to become even harsher, creating then a destructive addictive cycle.
Secondly, it is a solution that does not scale. Having an iron-fist boss who can barely control a limited number of team members is one thing. Increasing the size of the team is a completely different matter. The boss has a limited amount of energy to spend on his micro-managing activities and this cannot be scaled up ad infinitum. Breaking down teams into hierarchies also normally means the reduction of direct control, which will again lead to frustration at all levels.
Thirdly, the iron-fist boss is constantly frustrated as well, because total control is purely an illusion. One cannot have all the control one would want to or eventually even be required by the tasks at hand. Even the artificial micro-management schemes some end up developing are not enough, because people are not robots who can be controlled and directed exactly as one wishes.
I can certainly blame my first bosses and also my outdated management education for my early leadership mistakes. However, during the last 10 years, I've been wearing Patton's hat: telling people where to go and facilitating their way to get there. Even the "where to go" part has been replaced many times by purely abstract visions - dreams if you will. All in all, I
have had the pleasure of seeing people overachieving targets not only by their own means but mainly by being creative and self-organizing in ways I would have never imagined.
Micro-management and iron-fist control must nowadays be only ghosts of a distant past in our daily working life. If they are still living somewhere, we must kill them immediately.