A Controlling Mindset: The Bane of the Boss of Bosses | Smart Leaders–Smarter Teams

Schwarzbook9780787988739_p0_v2_s260x420Insights into leadership behaviors, ones that work and those that don’t, often come with personal epiphanies that are jarring at first and then helpful starting points. There was plenty of that in Roger Schwarz’s new book, Smart Leaders Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team GET UNSTUCK to GET RESULTS. Once again, I was pleased for the invitation to blog about the book and to share a bit of what I learned.

We’re always watching them–sometimes up close or from afar. We often shake our heads, wondering why they don’t get more done.

They’re the leadership team, the authority figures who run our companies–our hoped for role models.

But their approaches can sometimes seem petty, unhealthy or ineffective. Why is that?

It starts with mindset.

Leadership teams come in all shapes and sizes. The team members are bosses themselves who report to the same boss: first line supervisors reporting to the same  manager, functional managers to a senior manager, managers to an executive–you get the idea.

In his book, Smart Leaders Smarter Teams, Roger Schwarz describes the challenge of leading a leadership team:

Formal leaders…hold responsibility for how decisions will ultimately be made. But they also need to spread control around the team and redefine team leadership as the ability to share responsibility for the team’s functioning.

He then adds this:

Team members need to realize that they are part of a collective team mindset that defines the relationship between themselves and their formal leader.

According to Schwarz, the mindset adopted by the leader drives results:

By understanding your mindset, you’ll start to understand why you and your team are getting stuck, how you are unintentionally contributing to staying stuck, and how to get unstuck.

Most leaders are in the grip of a control conundrum: They feel comfortable wielding it and  team members expect it, even want it, even though they’ll use it as a point of resistance or complaint.

Leaders tend to be schooled in what Schwarz describes as a unilateral control mindset:Schwarz 8fd6ec4eb9b50ad8986c4b_L__V399985090_SX200_

When you use a unilateral control mindset, you are trying to achieve your goals by controlling the whole situation…You view leadership as power over others, so it’s important to hold on to it. With a unilateral control mindset, you think if you were to share power with others, you’d lose power. And that would be a bad thing.

Everything about getting promoted to leadership positions seems to scream the need for control over performance results, customers demands, employee behavior and, well, almost everything.

Schwarz identifies the behaviors showcased by leaders with a unilateral control mindset:

  • State my view without asking for others’ views, or vice versa.

  • Withhold relevant information.

  • Speak in general terms and don’t agree on what important words mean.

  • Keep my reasoning private; don’t ask others about their reasoning.

  • Focus on positions, not interests.

  • Act on untested assumptions and inferences as if they were true.

  • Control the conversation.

  • Avoid, ease into, or save face on difficult issues.

Sadly, these leadership behaviors will ultimately promote overt or covert resistance.

Schwarz’s remedy is to become a mutual learning mindset leader:

When you use a mutual learning mindset, you achieve your goals by learning from and with others. This means you’re open to being influenced by others at the same time you seek to influence others…You view leadership as power with others, not over others…

…the essence of your [mutual learning] mindset is simple: I understand some things. So do you. Let’s learn and move forward together.

The behaviors that bring leadership team members together to get better results are, as Schwarz states to:

  • State views and ask genuine questions.

  • Share all relevant information.

  • Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean.

  •  Explain reasoning and intent.

  •  Focus on interests, not positions.

  • Test assumptions and inferences.

  • Jointly design next steps.

  • Discuss undiscussable issues.

None of this is simple which is made clear in the book. There are specific values to be adopted, design issues and results to be defined. The shift starts with the team leader who often has a lot of personal work to take on. Then the team members need to make some changes in their mindsets too. It all takes practice and feedback from others. Schwarz covers a lot of that ground.

Lead smarter.

Schwarz understands the realities that underpin team leadership and the need to be a smart leader:

The mutual learning approach doesn’t say that you have to let the team decide or that you have to decide….

The mutual learning approach says that whatever decision-making rule you use…the process leading up to the decision needs to use the mutual learning core values, assumptions, and behaviors.

If you use [it]…then team members are likely to say that the process was fair, even if they disagree with the final decision.

The higher up you go in an organization, the more challenging your leadership task. If you like to feel your adrenaline pumping you through big changes, then you’re in the right place.

Hungry for Leadership Success? Whip Up a Batch of Principles

Serve them to your employees. They’re as hungry for success as you are.

Employees know the drill: They’re expected to deliver specific results for which they’re compensated. The better they perform, the more likely their careers will advance. 

When they understand what matters to their bosses, they can perform with minimal uncertainty. Bosses who aren’t clear about what drives their leadership and who act inconsistently give their employees a stomachache. 

Use organic principles. 

There’s so much written about leadership (a lot of it really good) that it’s hard to get our practical heads around it all. 

Clearly, the higher up we go in the organization and the broader our accountabilities, the more complex and strategic our leadership requirements. The closer we are to work output, the more linear and tactical it is. 

No matter our level, leadership includes: 

  • Principles—our core beliefs about what good leaders do; the standards that drive us
  • Traits—the distinguishing features marking the way we lead, like courage or optimism
  • Behaviors—our conduct, specifically the actions we take to get results like building partnerships or making timely decisions 

Role models (family members, coaches, bosses) are often how we first learn about leadership. But those people aren’t us. We’re unique. What drives our way of leading is a reflection of what we value—our principles. 

The recipe 

Step 1: Get clear about the principles that underpin the way you lead. You can’t lead consistently when you’re confused about what you value. Your principles are your daily guide and are tested when you face tough decisions. 

Step 2: Write your principles down and share them with your employees. That includes talking to them about why each principle is important to you. Let employees ask questions and generate clarifying discussion, so that you understand each other. 

Hold yourself accountable. 

If we are true to our principles, we’re willing to go to the mat to protect them. Here are some examples and what they require of leaders who own them

Principle: I believe that all employees should be treated with respect, patience, and consideration. 

That means: 

  • I will intervene immediately where there may be bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • I will listen and consider all feedback from employees, including differences around performance appraisal, hiring/promotion decisions, and personal requests.
  • I will make time to meet with employees face-to-face, when requested, to hear ideas and provide information, providing actionable direction. 

Principle: I will assign accountability for results, delegate responsibility and authority, and support progress by removing obstacles as appropriate. 

That means: 

  • I will allow employees to succeed or fail in the assignments they own, not “rescuing” a faltering assignment, but offering support and direction.
  • I will not micro-manage delegated assignments.
  • I will treat employees as professionals by empowering them to manage their assignments, using my position to help them overcome obstacles as needed. 

Principles abound. You just need to focus on the ones you know will help you lead more effectively in the situation you and your employees share. 

You can write principles about: 

  • Vision and strategic direction
  • Employee engagement and group problem-solving
  • Achieving business and individual goals
  • Employee growth and development
  • Mistakes, code of conduct, ethics and integrity
  • Teamwork and trust
  • Can-do attitudes, collaboration, and sense of humor 

There is no leading without followers. You need to develop principles that motivate your employees to follow because they share your core beliefs and see the reward in them. 

Your principles let your employees know what they can expect of you, particularly when the chips are down. 

When you compromise your principles, you sully your relationship with your employees. Each time to stand by them, you strengthen it. 

Please take some time to whip up a batch of your principles. Then serve them up with a cold glass of milk! Enjoy. 

Photo from Matt McGee via Flickr