I was recently asked what intangible aspect of leadership is most difficult to convey or prepare for. My response? Leadership is influence, not mandate.
The use of formal powers is your enemy. Making decisions with the confidence of being “in control” of things will lead to more mistakes than successes. Control is a mirage. See the world for what it is; negotiate opportunities for win-win moments between people, organizations, and communities. Give in, let yourself go, and negotiate for mutual gains on every level.
To that last point, if I could go back in time and share some advice with myself, it would be to find the way to say yes to as many approaches to the same challenge as I can. Not one person you will meet today will ask you to work on your own agenda. To the last person, they will want you to engage and work on their agendas. Trust that if you can contribute to others reaching their goals, your goals will also be identified and reached. Create the spaces between the black and white so everyone can be creative alongside you, not behind you.
Trying to control everything by making all the rules and setting a rigid structure loses sight of what makes a company successful. That’s why I’ve encouraged staff-created programs at my organization; it reminds me that structure is not the engine of innovation, people are! Programs like “Be an Innovator” and its successors are about walking the talk and bringing out the skills in people to challenge the status quo and identify how we should do things differently. It’s a learning experience for people from all levels of the company: people learning to define innovation, learning to champion disruption, and learning to persevere through lots of ideas that don’t cut the mustard.
Is this how you see effective management and leadership?