A New Years Resolution for Creative Leaders: Give Up Power and Cede Control…to Create More Value

A New Years Resolution for Creative Leaders: Give Up Power and Cede Control…to Create More Value

[The following is a post I originally wrote for New Years 2013. It still speaks to an exciting if, for many, counter-intuitive opportunity to become a better leader.]

‘Tis the season of making resolutions for the new year.  Of looking back at what has been been and looking ahead to what can be.  It’s a season of future possibilities grounded in the hard work, the successes and the failures, of the past twelve months.

One of the core tenets of creative leadership is reflection – consistent, constructive, courageous reflection about our individual values and beliefs and the actions they guide.  Reflection serves as a crucial basis for understanding ourselves as well as our actions as leaders.  Reflection and the self-knowledge it generates also shapes our decisions about the future.   We pause to reflect on the “why” of our busy lives in order to decide on “what” to do next and “how” effectively to take that action.

This dynamic of reflection enabling us to align our beliefs and actions as creative leaders makes looking forward to the arrival of a new year filled with possibilities so exciting.

Yet as we approach the new year, my wish is for you to consider taking an especially challenging action.  Most of us will make lists of resolutions for the months to come.  We’ll design ambitious goals and then dedicate ourselves to achieving them.  Some of these may involve committing to more regular practice of reflection on our days, perhaps meditation, and to stay grounded by integrating different areas of our lives.

More likely, though, the majority of our professional goals for the new year will involve re-focusing our time, attention and energies with our clients or customers, associates and colleagues.  We’ll dedicate ourselves to new projects.  We’ll re-double our efforts on existing ones.  We’ll pledge to be more effective leaders of people, teams and organizations.  All noble and worthwhile aspirations, but our way to reach those goals will typically be by taking on more responsibilities and assuming more control ourselves.  Ultimately, many of our resolutions will translate into accruing more power.

Instead of resolving to gather more power, let me offer an alternative approach to your 2015: Consider how to give up more power.  To cede more control.  To share more responsibility.  Ask yourself, how will you build more trust in your core team next year so you can collaborate with rather than control them?  How will you move beyond providing direct inspiration to fostering an individual sense of aspiration in each of those around you?  Ultimately, how will you stir the passions of those with whom you work in order to be more innovative together?

These are hard questions.  For power and control in many organizations means final decision-making authority or profit and loss responsibility or supervision over people or departments.  It’s very difficult giving up those hard-won markers of success – they’re typically our rewards for, and outward signs of, our achievements, after all.

Yet by giving up tight-fisted individual control, we allow for an increased sense of shared ownership that translates, ultimately, into the creation of greater value.  You may recognize such thinking from the valuable work of Linda A. Hill, Tim Leberecht, Charlene Li, and Nilofer Merchant, among others.  However, creative leaders have long understood that fostering creative excellence requires purposeful openness and genuine trust to draw fully on all the passion and capabilities of those with whom we work.  The challenge is to reflect on that understanding for our own lives as leaders and to act.

So, Happy New Year.  And all good wishes for your giving up power and control for a more creative and successful 2015.

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