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.

divest control


Centralized controls:

  1. De-motivate people who actually do the work.
  2. Stifle creativity.
  3. Establish dependencies.
  4. Increase unproductive workload.
  5. 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:

  1. Clarify mission, vision, and values. What are you trying to accomplish? Divesting control is chaos when purpose and values are foggy.
  2. Create a culture of ownership where the people closest to the work have decision-making authority. Authority is permission to act without asking permission.
  3. Increase  team member competencies. Loosening your grip includes training and mentoring.
  4. 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?”
  5. Move from asking permission to declaring intent. (See: How to Turn Passive Followers into Active Leaders.)
  6. Resist the urge to provide solutions. Their imperfect solution is better than your imperfect solution.
  7. Choose “adapt as you go,” rather than, “perfect before you leap.”
  8. Stop reminding people to do their job; expect them to. When you own it, others won’t.
  9. Think out loud. Let others know where you’re at.
  10. 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

Twitter: @ldavidmarquet