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Global Leadership Network UK & Ireland

WCA UK & Ireland

You Can Lead Or You Can Control – Mike Hill

Mike Hill CEO GLN UK and IrelandDear Friends

Giving Permision

Recently on a rainy morning a friend and I approached one of our local coffee shops at 8.30am. It was raining hard. We were told in no uncertain terms that the place was shut and would open at 9am. Innocently, we asked whether we could sit at one of the outside tables which was undercover until opening time. We were somewhat curtly told,

“Sorry, no you can’t. We wouldn’t be insured.”

My friend and I moved on making the rapid decision that we wouldn’t be going back until such time as our irritation had subsided.

A frequent mistake

Many people appear to think that leadership is about control. Such leaders like rules and regulations and staff training is largely about ensuring that such rules are rigidly enforced. I have no idea whether this was the situation with the coffee shop in question, though interestingly, since then several people have spoken to me negatively about the attitude of employees in the aforementioned establishment.

In 1993, Ricardo Semler published his excellent book, “Maverick.” This book charts the transformation of a strictly regulated factory culture to an open community working environment. Literally the huge books of rules and regulations were burnt and a new empowerment culture was introduced. Some of the characteristics of the transformed company were these:

  • No dresscode
  • No standard hierarchies
  • No executive perks
  • Allows employees to set their own working hours
  • Even lets employees set their own salaries
  • Asks you to review your boss

I guess one of the most painful trade-offs was appeasing the powerful union labour force? But all this back in 1993! The business was a huge success as productivity increased.

Someone once said that “you can lead or you can control, but you can’t do both!”

No-one is suggesting that the role of a leader is to create chaos (perceived by controlling people as losing control) but over-control will stem creativity amongst colleagues and also leave them disempowered and frustrated. Here are a couple of things for leaders to honestly think about:

Your reactions: Learn to respond instead of react. Buy yourself enough time to pause and consider all sides of any situation before you say something you quickly come to lament. Many of the people we work alongside will quickly read our responses – not just our words but the other languages of communication. Try and attain discipline over your initial responses. You should probably ration for instance, the number of times you hear yourself saying, “How come I didn’t know about this…”

Your attitude: At GLN, we recognise that leadership learning is meant to influence your leadership behaviours positively. Isolate the emotion you feel, and assess its positivity. In these challenging times you really need to amplify positivity and see if you can restrain any temptation to negativity.

A straightforward dilemma

Contrast my treatment at the coffee shop with my experience at an airport hotel, mid journey last year. Our flight from London was delayed. We arrived in Miami hopelessly late in the evening having missed our connecting flight by miles. The airline had some excuse as to why the bill for overnight accommodation was my responsibility. We found a room and got into it at 1am Miami time, (7am UK time). We were beat. Sadly, we discovered that the bathroom in particular was filthy. It was so late we decided not to go back to reception and try and get another room allocation from the night shift receptionist. I took some photographs of the bathroom and crashed out!

The next morning when I showed my pics to the reception desk, the receptionist’s immediate response was to not charge anything for the overnight stay, give us a voucher for a free breakfast and transfer enough hotel points on to my card to cover 50% of any future booking. Result!

I have no idea what the hotel chain’s rule book is like, or even if they have one, but I understood more of their corporate culture and their desire to delegate responsibility for mistakes and enable staff to sort out problems with the customer in mind. This is the difference you can achieve when you empower team members to make decisions rather than simply require them to enforce petty rules.

What would it mean in your church/organisation to loosen control and increase colleague empowerment?

Coffee shop or hotel? Which would you choose?

Mike Hill
CEO GLN UK & Ireland