Let Go and Let Others Grow

You’ve probably seen this yourself – a leader with a control problem.

Many bosses would rather die than let go of the control they have on their teams. It happens with even good leaders. Managers want to make sure things go well in their departments, so they keep a tight rein on everything.

As it turns out, this creates a huge problem.

It’s one of the main reasons many start-up companies fail to grow – the founder just can’t let go of control.

In a new company, it’s understandable. When a founder starts, funds, and builds a business from scratch, it’s their baby. They want to see it grow into a fully functional adult, so they carefully manage every detail. They work 60-80 hours a week to make sure everything is perfect.

The problem is that other employees in the organization become dependent on the leader and never grow – they never get challenged.

Contrast this with my experience as a naval officer.

On a U.S. Navy submarine, the captain is responsible for ensuring each crew member is fully qualified to do their job. The captain does this through pressure-testing – putting young officers and sailors in situations beyond their current capabilities.

The captain purposely gives up control to give people a chance to gain the necessary experience under pressure.

As a young junior officer, my commanding officer once put me in charge of preparing the USS Tennessee for sea for a short, highly visible VIP cruise. I had never performed this job before and, because of the VIPs, the stakes were higher than usual.

To add additional pressure, the captain wasn’t even on board at the time. He put me in charge and left the boat.

In a critical moment in my career, he let go and gave me a chance to grow as a leader.

That day was difficult and stressful, but I credit that experience towards helping me become a better, more seasoned naval officer. I tell the whole story in a chapter called “run your ship like a captain” in my new book, All in the Same Boat.

I was thinking about this issue last week.

I had a guest on my podcast, Neel Parekh, who built a local service business remotely.

As you know, I’ve always advocated for leaders to be present. So, I was curious to learn how Neel ran his business from the road. How did he manage all the things that needed to get done in a business remotely?

He said something that stuck out, “When I put a little bit more stress on the team – when I was less available – it helped them grow faster.”

When I was less available - it helped them grow faster - Neel Parekh Click To Tweet

He said something else that stood out, “people adjust.”

He explained that if the leader is always there and always helping, people rely on them too much. But if you say, you know what? You’re in charge. I’m going to disconnect for a little while – people will make the adjustments and fill in the gaps.

If the leader is always there and always helping, people rely on them too much. Click To Tweet

When they can’t ask the leader to help them, they figure it out.

They learn how to get things done on their own without the leader.  As it turns out, our teams are always more capable than we think.

As leaders, we don’t necessarily have to be there every day, running the show, directing every detail. It’s important to step away and allow people to rise up and take responsibility as well.

Is it hard to let go as a leader? Absolutely.

But when we do, it gives our teams a chance to step up and grow.

[Photo by Antonio Lainez on Unsplash]

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