The difference between enabling and controlling in leadership

Imagine the scene: you look down from an office window set high in the wall, watching the workers you employ busily completing the tasks you have set them on the floor below. Everyone is working. Everyone knows their own role. You watch as they mindlessly perform the tasks required of them: Steady whirring cogs in a well-oiled machine. There is a manager stationed on the corner of every section. Every so often they patrol through the rows of workers, making sure that everyone is doing as they should be. Anyone seen slacking or failing to meet targets is dealt with efficiently. You have spent years building this company, defining the roles of each department, putting in place a clear chain of command through which your orders can be efficiently passed down to the parts of the machine. And for years, it has worked. You’ve achieved a level of success and maintained it well – profits rising enough, year on year, to keep the stakeholders happy. You have built the company in line with the autocratic principles enshrined in the lexicons of business theory that you studied. It’s a perfect profit generating machine. You control it all.

So why does it feel like you are an aging captain, standing at the helm of a sinking ship?

The world has moved on. The autocratic style of management, one man controlling the fate of a company, is no longer an effective business model. It used to work, when the business world was a more stable environment and change spread slowly through society. But that is no longer the world we live in. Employees can no longer be seen as cogs or parts – their every action to be controlled in line with a specified function, working to keep the company machine trundling steadily forward on a defined path. The modern business world is a river in flux. Innovation is everywhere and change happens almost on a minute by minute basis. As a modern business leader you need to be able to adapt and respond to this dynamic new environment. You need a constant flow of new ideas. You need an adaptive and evolving workforce with ideas of their own that will help spur the company to success.

Your employees are your greatest asset. They represent a mine of untapped potential and inspiration. It’s time to shake off outdated modes of thinking and loosen the reins. By demonstrating a level of trust in your employees and giving them the freedom to be creative, you will enable your workforce to stop working for you and start working with you in a combined effort to drive the company forward into unprecedented realms of success. When your employees feel valued, trusted and free to express their ideas, all sorts of creative new approaches can be devised, ideas floated, and solutions found. Given the power to make changes that have a real effect, employees gain a stake in the company’s success. They will be happier in their work and want to do more; they will want to rise to the challenge and fulfil their potential.

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Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.