10 Ways to Divest and Distribute Control
Top-down control suggests people are ignorant, incompetent, and unmotivated.
Fear motivates a need for control.
Centralized control makes weak leaders feel powerful.
- De-motivate people who actually do the work.
- Stifle creativity.
- Establish dependencies.
- Increase unproductive workload.
- Invite a “minimum required” attitude.
Centralized controls stagnate, they don’t invigorate.
Divest and distribute control:
“My primary focus…was to divest control and distribute it to the officers and crew.” Captain David Marquet, former Commander of the USS Stanta Fe.
If the Commander of a nuclear-attack submarine can divest and distribute control, I bet you can too.
10 ways to divest control:
- Clarify mission, vision, and values. What are you trying to accomplish? Divesting control is chaos when purpose and values are foggy.
- Create a culture of ownership where the people closest to the work have decision-making authority. Authority is permission to act without asking permission.
- Increase team member competencies. Loosening your grip includes training and mentoring.
- Engage in frequent, short, early conversations. Engage people from the beginning if you expect them to be engaged in the end. Ask, “How can we create an environment where you are in charge of your work?”
- Move from asking permission to declaring intent. (See: How to Turn Passive Followers into Active Leaders.)
- Resist the urge to provide solutions. Their imperfect solution is better than your imperfect solution.
- Choose “adapt as you go,” rather than, “perfect before you leap.”
- Stop reminding people to do their job; expect them to. When you own it, others won’t.
- Think out loud. Let others know where you’re at.
- Welcome feedback and evaluation. If you believe in being better in the future, you believe you’re falling short today. You may be doing your best, but there’s a new best tomorrow.
*Adapted and expanded from, “Turn the Ship Around.”
What causes leaders to be control freaks?
How can leaders divest and distribute control?
This post is based on my interview with Captain David Marquet and his book, Turn the Ship Around. (Recommended reading)
Added resource: Turn Your Ship Around: A workbook for Implementing Intent-Based Leadership in Your Organization
Giving someone the opportunity to fail and learn, will also give them the opportunity to succeed and win. Holding talent down is a guaranteed receipt for meritocracy, also taking charge when you shouldn’t is irresponsible action. It will cause the other guy to let you, let him escape his/her potential. Good post.
Thanks Ron. Nicely said. It’s so true that if you take charge others will step back and let you.
Love this post! I’m running a series on the topic of delegation, and this really resonates with me right now.
Thanks Jon. It’s always a pleasure to hit someone at just the right time. Cheers.
I think mainly because of the fact of having low self-confidence and be perfectionist yourself…causes someone to be a control freak.
Letting go of these of in actual fact develop a better self-confidence and higher self-esteem allows you to let go and loosen up.
I like that of setting out your values, vision and mission clear. It’s a focus point for me.
Thanks Dan and happy weekend!
Thanks Dennis. I can see how low self-confidence and being a perfectionist make us control freaks. After all, no one can do it as good as we can. 😉
I get a sense of the power of just letting go even if it’s difficult, from your comment.
Too many top down, control freak leaders disguise their need for control by telling employees they are just helping reduce their work load by taking over this decision, job, removing this committee, etc. At first it sounds like a nice, then it becomes apparent that then need for control was the real motivation and causes a ripple effect that breaks down the whole system. If they only realized that their need for control is choking employee effectiveness not helping.
Thanks Vicki. “I’m just being helpful.” might be another way of saying, “I’m a control freak.”
Too much help doesn’t help.
Since there is a military example I’d add that when the troops know “Commanders Intent” or what the successful mission looks like they are in a solid position to innovate. If the [prescribed way is blocked but you know the required outcome you have the ability to think on the fly and get it done. that is one of the reasons the American military has been able to see success. When leaders are out of the action the lower ranks can still execute successfully
This is such a great post – I needed to read this today.
BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory. Recent surveys show that only 50% of people in workplace feel respected by their boss. It shows up in lots of ways. Compliance from control will not show any initiative and following the rules tends to cause all sorts of productivity and quality problems. If workers want to sabotage results, one strategy IS to follow all the rules…
Good stuff, Dan. Thanks.
Dan, your top-down control overview describes BIG-BROTHER GOVERNMENT …perhaps the kind we are seeing in our current administration today–where individual creativity and responsibility is stifled, and government dependency is created. And what’s your answer? Make passive followers into active leaders, or in the age-old nomenclature: Turn takers into givers!
Sometimes people believe they are happier when they are willing (not forced) to be in a “submissive” state of mind because freedom and free-will is often troublesome: It’s often better to obey and make the most of it. Like the horse that’s “harnessed,” or steam or gas that drives nothing until it is “confined.” No Niagara is ever turned into light or power until it is “tunneled,” and no life ever grows until is “disciplined.”
We must be able to handle our own FREEDOM and FREE-WILL…before we can either be trusted or trust others with empowerment. I believe what the military–and its commanders like Captain David Marquet–teach us is to take the freedom and free-will of the individual, refine it with discipline to know how to do something well—so that the end product is to respect the responsibility and authority of what one does and thus how one contributes. A wonderful byproduct is they enjoy it and feel good about themselves.
Sometimes bosses are afraid of being caught not knowing some small detail about a project. They want to know absolutely everything so that they can never be caught short if questioned. So rather than refer the questioner to their subordinate, who is the subject-matter expert, the boss will get flustered and angry at the subordinate because they got “blindsided” by a question they couldn’t answer. So they want to be in on every single detail and pre-approve any communications that go out about the project. Their ego gets in the way of saying, “That’s X’s project, so I will refer you to her.”
Undoubtedly, centralized control is very flexible and effective. It is time-effective when a person make decisions instead of a bunch of people. However, if a leader can delegate works on everyone and motivate them to engage, to contribute, it will be a more effective process.