What Happens When A Leader Lets Go Of Control

Vartika Kashyap
Apr 21, 2021 · 10 min read
Source: www.pexels.com

Have you ever felt compelled to manage the most basic functionalities of your business? Have you ever meddled with the most pivotal aspects that make up the foundation of your organization?

If yes, then maybe your insecurities about the business might be compromising the work culture at your organization. That is a dangerous game, my friend. Because you see, a team that is working under this kind of leadership would need a whole guide on surviving micromanagers.

There was one time I was in Australia for this conference. I was excited to go partly because I had the chance to go with one of my closest friends, Mary. She and I started our careers together and we often talked about our shared love for badminton and our thoughts on team management.

After reaching the event I had the pleasure of making acquaintances with some of the most powerful women in the business world. These women were like none I had ever met. I was taken aback by their demeanor and how commanding they were. Powerful female leadership can be a game-changer in any business. I was curious as to what these accomplished ladies have been up to in their professional careers.

They talked with so much passion about their businesses; it was breath-taking. From what I heard, it seemed like they met one another quite frequently at conferences such as this one, and there was one friend that was missing.

Mary and I heard a lot of talk about this woman, let’s call her “Samantha”. From what I gathered, Samantha was a textbook-micromanager. Her company was on top of the game a few years before this conference. If you are wondering what happened, it’s quite simple, a whole department of at least 50 people, put in their resignation all in one day. It put her organization way back. Needless to say, it was a considerable loss for the company and, consequently, a big setback in her professional career.

At the time she was busy putting off fires at her organization and doing some much-needed damage control. What I understood from the conversations those women were having is that Samantha’s team had abandoned her because they were themselves under great distress. The workload was fine, but it was Samatha’s undying involvement in every single task that was being a big problem for them.

The group of women told Mary and me about Samantha’s story as if it were a cautionary tale. Honestly, I did not buy it. Just because a manager was overzealous about work and wanted to be involved in every ongoing project, doesn’t mean that they contributed to the impending doom of their own organization.

On the flight back home, I felt that Mary was a little anxious. I asked her what was going on and she told me that she was worried she’d end up like Samantha. She told me all the things she had been doing to supervise every minute thing in her team, and I felt as if I was looking at a micromanager in the making. She decided that some things needed to be different. She vowed to make some changes and back out for a bit when she gets back.

After a while, she called me and here’s what she said.

“I just let go of control and waited for things to fall apart. It didn’t happen. 2 weeks have gone by, everything is still okay. What is happening?”

Here’s what happened:

People gained more accountability

Without peering eyes and constant supervision, you’d think the team would lose all their bearings, you’d think they’ll take no moment in going off the rails and messing things up. That, my friends, is not the case. When you let go of control, loosen the reigns a little, people actually gain more accountability for their work.

I was very interested as to how this could happen. What I found was truly amazing. Surprisingly, Mary’s team started to realize that there was a significant number of tasks in the backlog that had not been completed in due time. They were quick to give that a go and were done with these incomplete assignments in a week.

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After that, they sorted out their day-to-day tasks, made schemes to reduce the time spent in completing recurring tasks. When they realized that nobody will be coming to ask for updates about ongoing tasks, they came to the conclusion that they are supposed to give results at the end of the day with or without supervision.

So, they started to build a workflow that would help them deliver results efficiently.

I don’t know what it is about supervision, but it definitely seems to play with the heads of the people you are supervising. Being supervised can make people feel that every mistake they make is going to be broadcasted out in the open, it makes them lose their self-confidence.

Not only that it becomes a draining exercise for the supervisor. Well, Mary confirms that it was draining. In the past, she was finding it very hard to manage her time. If you stay stuck overseeing the work done on one spot of the office, you forget the processes going on everywhere else. Losing focus is not something that a leader enjoys.

Mary was relieved to know that if she wasn’t directly involved in the work lives of all these employees, they would continue to function with the same if not more efficiency.

The Takeaway: The lesson I’m taking away from this part is that accountability is not something I can impart on my team. It has to come from within. If people are confident about their work, they will be passionate about it, and would readily take responsibility for it.

Assumed responsibility for the growth of the business

Mary found out that people were considering it their own responsibility to take the business up the ladder. They were stepping up in every way possible.

Loyalty and dedication were two parameters that Mary did not know how to measure. But what she saw on these particular days was a stark contrast to what she had normally seen. Innovative steps to boost sales were being discussed, things that had long been on the back burner were now in the process of completion. It was a welcome change.

Why was there this shift towards “treating the organization as if it were your own” all of a sudden? This shift came because Mary wasn’t “breathing down their necks anymore”, as she would say. Mary always believed that if she let her employees off the hook they would just stop caring. But that wasn’t the case.

Every employee is a dedicated employee when they don’t feel like their moves are being watched all the time.

If someone watched me all the time, I’d feel that they were trying to belittle me and doubt my abilities. Needless to say, this is not the ideal environment for employees presenting the qualities of dedication and loyalty. Because you see, employees realize that loyalty will be given in return for respect.

As Mary relinquished control, people started to show that they were just as concerned for the growth of the business as she was. They showed her that they were just as invested in putting new ideas into motion as she was. They seemed more than interested in taking things to the next level.

The Takeaway: There are a lot of takeaways from this part. It states how people can feel so small just because managers feel a little more attached to the project than they normally do. Most of the time, employees want the learning curve to be presented by practical knowledge and not from critical feedback. This is the reason that when you let go of control, they regain control of their own tasks and start to work on their duties with dedication.

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Felt free to implement innovation

Sometimes a manager might have a very different idea of how innovation should be bred and later implemented. We tend to forget that that is why we have a whole workforce. The concept of teams is sometimes lost on people in management. It might be a result of having more experience than the team or of plain old micromanagement.

It doesn’t matter how it came into being. Now that it’s here, it needs to be dealt with.

Coming back to our story about Mary, you’ll be glad to know that things were looking up on the innovation front. Not only were her employees coming up with ideas more often, but they were also coming up with ways in which they could quickly implement them.

More often than not, (In the past) Mary had seen that her team did not partake in brainstorming sessions with as much zeal as she would’ve liked. But now that she wasn’t stirring the pot anymore, she realized that people were coming out of their shells and putting their ideas into words.

I believe what happened was that whenever someone’s ideas got shot down, fewer and fewer people came up with their theories on what might work and what won’t.

Rejection is a very real source of demotivation.

Even hearing about how many people had been active in the meeting was enough to put Mary in utter shock. She hated to be a reason for the blockages in the innovative process.

Thus, I feel that by being critical about your team’s approaches and putting your thoughts first, you are giving your employees a reason to not be invested in work and come up with ideas.

The Takeaway: Rejecting ideas over and over again sends a message that you don’t value the opinions of your team. It also gives out a message that you cannot see beyond your own ideas and that your specific vision will always be the top priority. These messages cause constant little shocks to the employees, just like the one that Mary faced this once. We must always acknowledge ideas presented by our team.

People came into their own (Took on leadership roles)

Another thing that happened was how people were stepping up to do the job and manage the people around them. It was a huge surprise for Mary. This shift in things made me realize how we can truly never know who would make a great leader and who won’t till one simply rises to the occasion.

A select number of people were keeping their teams in check, keeping tabs on their productivity, and were ready to carry accountability for them. This felt quite unreal to Mary. She hated to think that she had had any hand in stunting the growth of her employees.

Mary said, “If I knew that backing off a little would bring in this much discipline, I would’ve definitely tried it sooner. I am quickly realizing how assuming responsibility is a big milestone for a team that is not working under supervision. This behavior of tenacity and sticktoitiveness needs to be appreciated and celebrated.”

The Takeaway: The lesson I took away from this little episode is that the people surrounding you are going to have some amazing hidden talents that can only grow and prosper when they are allowed to have a little space and freedom.

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The Real Takeaway

The real facts I take away from Samantha’s story and the events following Mary’s decision to loosen up a little bit are simple:

  1. You hire people because they carry potential, don’t let that go to waste by doing their jobs FOR them.
  2. Trust and loyalty only work when they are mutual. You can never receive something that you do not wish to offer.
  3. People will consider their work their own only when you give them the space and time to accept their jobs.
  4. Grown people do not need constant supervision or hand-holding, all they need is acceptance from you and a little breathing room.

Here and now, let us all take a vow to bring more stability, productivity, accountability, and discipline to our work lives by believing in our team a little bit day by day.

Thank you for reading this, before you go

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About Author:

Vartika Kashyap is the Marketing Manager at ProofHub and has been one of the LinkedIn Top Voices. Her articles are inspired by office situations and work-related events. She likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture, leadership, entrepreneurship among others, and contributing to a better workplace is what makes her click. Follow her on Linkedin.

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Vartika Kashyap

Written by

Chief Marketing Officer@ProofHub. Featured writer on LinkedIn. Contributor at Elearning Industry, Dzone, Your Story and Business.com.

The Helm

Business leadership advice, from real business leaders. The Helm is a carefully curated collection of insightful content from the business frontlines.