CEO Coaching: Leading With a Loose Grip

I just talked with a talented CEO who doubled his top line in less than three years. He built the senior team he wants and “ran” his business in keeping with his values, one of which is empowering his people to do their job. Unfortunately, a private equity firm that values control over empowerment owns his company. What a shame.

Tight grips cause as many problems in management as they do in casting a fly or screwing in a light bulb.

Control is a complex topic. It has been listed for decades as a management function, and it is. But just like broccoli, too much isn’t good.

As a leader with a focus on long-term success, you have many tools and approaches available. Yes, it’s a good deal of art, but there’s science and evidence to guide you. There’s good process to lean on. If you rely exclusively on intuition as a leader or manager, you’re likely about as competent as an intuitive brain surgeon. Studying the topic and practicing are necessary in both cases.

Authoritarian leadership can be valuable in a crisis, but even then, a collaborative style often works best. Taking counsel from your advisors is smart whether you’re in an armed conflict or merely missing your quarterly budget.

It’s one thing to state expectations; it’s another to tell someone exactly how to reach them. This is where control leads to frustration and turnover. Being a supportive leader with a loose grip produces better results and elicits joy in the workplace. It does, however, have requirements.

You must have talented people. If you hire on the cheap and can only afford those who have little experience, intelligence, and emotional intelligence, you’ll be locked into a controlling culture.

You must allow people to make mistakes, which requires a long-term view. When leaders don’t allow for mistakes, the culture becomes one of avoiding decisions, passing the buck, blame, and obfuscation. Sounds like a great place to work, doesn’t it?

You must be clear about what a win is. Is it an EBITDA number? Revenue growth? Customer satisfaction? Positive relationships with the board? No doubt all of these and more, but which is primary?

You must still have a check-in process and hold people accountable. Both positive and negative consequences are necessary, but not on every action and not every day! People will make mistakes, and you must take some risk and allow some flexibility in approach.

The golden rule is still golden. Lead others the way you’d like to be led and you’ll be in good stead!

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