One step toward letting yourself lead: Let go! – Renee Charney, Ph.D. Candidate

One step toward letting yourself lead: Let go!

I asked her a question that encouraged her to step back and reflect a bit:  “What do you want?” She thought about it for a minute and then answered: “I want my team to do what I want them to do!”

Now we really had something to explore.

Many times new leaders (and, at times, seasoned leaders, as well) get securely attached to their own ways of performing a job; their way is the right way because, as their personal experience demonstrates, it’s been those very skills and techniques that got them into the position they now hold; it’s because they did a great job.

But here’s where leaders might get derailed. If they hold fast to what they know best, their expertise, they squander the opportunity to truly lead.

Rooke and Torbert (2005) suggest that great leaders are not differentiated by their personality or management style, but rather their “action logics”—how they react (or act) when they step (or are pulled) out of their comfort zone. People, according to the model, fall into one of seven of these action logics, which include such groupings as achievers, experts, diplomats, strategists, and individualists.When we allow ourselves to step back, reflect, consider others’ perspectives or ways of doing a task, we ourselves grow to be more inclusive and relational in our leadership capacity. And, by doing so, we can also transform how our organization develops across teams by modeling the same behaviors and, by extension, enriching the environment for others to also develop.

Rooke and Torbert (2005) further suggest that most of our working population rests within the action logic stage of “expert”—actually 38% of the working population—someone who may be well-suited as an individual contributor due to his or her technical expertise and, possibly, less suited to be the developmental leader needed to grow others.

Here’s the opportunity.

When leaders are willing to practice new habits of letting go, and allow their team members to try new things (and, perhaps, perform tasks that might not map directly to what they would have done), amazing and wonderful things happen – for both the leader and the team.  In Rooke and Torbert’s (2005) “action logic” language, this behavior demonstrates a later stage of development called the “achiever” stage (30% of the population), which occurs when a leader expands her capacity to focus on team development and team goals, rather than on personal expertise and personal goals. As you might imagine, as adults expand their capacity to let go, step back, and enable others to take more responsibility, make more independent decisions, and deepen their capacity to “lead in place” (Wergin, 2007), this leadership growing pattern becomes more challenging; leaders must be able to enter into the unknown and trust others’ capacity to lead. This leadership development process enables teams the opportunity to step up and take the lead on projects, and to learn from both their successes and mistakes. The leader, in turn, gets to learn new ways of doing tasks and, by extension of the willingness to let go, deepens the loyalty and trust across the team.

My client decided to give it a try to let go and see what would happen. She decided to let herself lead. What she noticed was enlightening!  Her relationships with her team members became richer, their creativity soared, and they began to make decisions independently. She then gained more time to work on her own tasks, thinking and planning strategically (and was able to answer her emails in time to get home to her family at a reasonable hour). She grew as a leader and gained the respect of upper management as her team achieved results that exceeded expectations.

A simple shift of thinking can make all the difference as we commit to growing ourselves as leaders and to growing our teams. Letting go of what we know andletting ourselves lead can be that simple shift. What possibilities to let go might you see within your leadership life?

New Managers Need a Philosophy About How They’ll Lead – Carol A. Walker 

Being promoted to manager is a good sign you’ve been successful to date — however,  the road from this point forward gets trickier to navigate. Your job is no longer just about getting the work done. You’re more likely now to find yourself juggling conflicting demands, delivering difficult messages, and addressing performance problems. While there is no guidebook of straightforward answers to your new challenges, having a clear philosophy can provide a firm foundation from which to.

With respect to your career, a philosophy is simply a cohesive way of thinking about your role. Very few people take the time to establish one. Most managers live in a reactive mode, responding to issues based on gut feelings, past experiences, and examples set by others. The success or failure of this approach is often determined by your temperament (some people are naturally more gifted managers than others) and the caliber of your role models—two factors largely out of your control. Whether you’ve been lucky in these areas or not, having a core philosophy can help guide you through the day-to-day and the job’s tougher moments.

The idea of “servant leadership” is a great place for new managers to start. Robert Greenleaf coined the term 35 years ago, but the concept is still vital and empowering. Granted, “servant” doesn’t sound nearly as powerful as “boss,” but it has the potential to deliver far more of what most of us are really after: influence.  The reason is simple. When you have a servant mentality, it’s not about you. Removing self-interest and personal glory from your motivation on the job is the single most important thing you can do to inspire trust. When you focus first on the success of your organization and your team, it comes through clearly. You ask more questions, listen more carefully, and actively value others’ needs and contributions. The result is more thoughtful, balanced decisions. People who become known for inclusiveness and smart decisions tend to develop influence far more consistently than those who believe they have all the answers.

Servant leadership is most powerful when applied to managing employees. The first step in embracing this mindset is to stop thinking that your employees work for you. Instead, hold onto the idea that they work for the organization and for themselves. Your role as servant is to facilitate the relationship between each employee and the organization. Ask yourself, “What will it take for this employee to be successful in this relationship?” And, “What does the organization need to provide in order to hold up its end of the bargain?” When these questions drive your thinking, you advance both parties’ interests. (The same principles apply to managing products, supply chains, and customer relationships, but we’ll keep our focus on employees here.)

Does servant leadership prohibit telling people what to do or correcting their behavior? On the contrary, it means that you must do these things to facilitate an individual’s success within the organization. The key is that your mind is in “servant mode” when you perform the daily tasks of management.

For instance, assigning work should be a thoughtful process that balances business goals with an individual’s interest, skills, and development needs. Not every routine task has to be so thoroughly considered. But whenever significant assignments are made, putting them into context maximizes their impact. An employee who understands why she has been asked to do something is far more likely to assume true ownership for the assignment. When she owns it, you become more guide than director. You ask how you can support her and how she would like to report progress rather than tell her these things. An employee who believes her boss understands her strengths, values her input, and encourages her growth is likely to stick around for the long-term.

Clearly, the servant approach to assigning tasks requires more thought and preparation than simply dishing them out. It takes time. But remember that you are actually multitasking—you are making sure the work gets done while simultaneously strengthening the individual’s relationship with the organization.

Adopting the servant philosophy should also make it easier to provide corrective feedback. You are merely a facilitator, and facilitators aren’t angry, frustrated, or resentful when they deliver feedback, because it isn’t about them—it’s about the relationship between the two other parties. For that reason, exercising the servant frame of mind makes development conversations feel less personal. You aren’t disappointed in your employee’s actions; you are simply explaining how they get in the way of what he’s trying to accomplish for himself and the organization. When your only agenda is setting someone else up for success, your words tend to be received more openly. True upset happens when either party’s interests are allowed to suffer over time without intervention. It must be the manager’s primary concern to balance those interests.

By definition, developing a reputation takes time. However, when you are consistent with the servant approach, people know what to expect from you and trust ensues. Trust, combined with the smart, inclusive decision-making discussed earlier is a surefire way of gaining influence.

We’ve just scratched the surface of the many challenges that you will confront as a first-time manager. There is simply no way to anticipate them all. But a core servant leadership philosophy will provide critical guideposts to help you manage in real time. Whatever your temperament, a serving mindset will keep you out of the reactive and self-protective patterns that can impede your success. Servant leadership may not appeal to those who are attracted to a more traditional idea of power, but it should be the choice of those interested in influence and results.

How Your Boss Views Failure Determines Your Success – Oscar Benjiman

As Americans we spend the majority of our lives in a cubicle or office somewhere, working diligently as a cog in some giant machine. All so that we can afford essentials like housing, transportation, health care and food. Money continues to top the charts as the thing that brings us the most stress, and it’s no coincidence that our jobs come in a close second.

For many of us, the biggest pain point on the job comes from the relationship we have with our boss. A boss that doesn’t know how to properly motivate, challenge and credit employees can have a overwhelmingly negative impact on their team. What’s worse, once employees start leaving reviews on sites like Glassdoor.com, the manager’s actions, or lack thereof, can have a truly adverse effect on the company’s brand and especially its ability to acquire new talent.

After all, employees who are highly skilled have options, and rarely do anything just for the money. So why would they ever choose to work in a toxic environment?

Now, when I use the terms “boss”, “supervisor” or “manager”, I’m referring to everyone from c-level executives to mailroom employees. There’s hardly an organization that doesn’t have at least one manager who turns their division into a petri dish of bad ideas. Typically it’s because they take advice from dopey management books, misapply lessons from stories of the lives of famous CEOs, or implement a surface level understanding of human psychology that they get from online magazines.

I’ve manned cash registers, worked on research teams, have been a middle-manager, owned a small business with 6 employees, and directed a team of 30…so I know what it’s like to be a manager, and I’ve also dealt with many of them in a wide variety of situations. Those experiences, coupled with years listening to family, friends, colleagues and strangers rant about their bad bosses, have given me a rich perspective.

Whether you’re actively searching for new employment, hiring managers for your company, or simply making a decision about whether to stay with the organization you’re in now – there’s one key indicator that signals that you may be dealing with a manager from hell.


Some of the most inept and unsuccessful managers I’ve known have seen failure as a curse word, a proverbial third rail that should never be touched or crossed. Some even went so far as to change the definition of success midway through a project to avoid failure.

From the outside, or perhaps from first-hand experience, you might empathize with their situation. You might see it as a manager protecting their team or company from the barbarians at the gate. After all, failures such as missing goals can depress stock prices or ruin a company all together. Isn’t the fear of failure a good thing?

Simply put, no. As noble as a manager’s intentions might appear, the fear of failure is a perfect recipe for mediocrity and obsolesce.

Thomas Edison cut to the heart of the matter when he said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Whether it’s testing drugs that cure diseases or figuring out how to launch and land reusable rockets on Mars, failure is a vital part of the equation.

It’s just as important to know how to do a thing, as it is how not to do a thing.

I’m not suggesting that managers who wear failure as a badge of honor should be celebrated. What I’m saying is that managers who are willing to take risks to reap big rewards are invaluable to both the company as well as the team they manage. How a manager views failure is important, because that mindset carries with it a slew of  other valuable character traits.

When your boss can appreciate failure’s place in the workplace, you can expectnot to be thrown under the bus every time they need to account for a failure. You’ll likely have the opportunity to learn new skills and gain a great deal of autonomy at your workplace, since you’ll no longer be mired in BS and trying to maintain the status quo. You might even be given credit for your successes…imagine that. Most importantly, you will find purpose in the work you do, while simultaneously building a stellar resumé for any future pursuits.


However , if you’re in a situation where your manager acts like the one in the Dilbert cartoon below, your best option is to simply leave. Sure, there are circumstances where getting a different job isn’t feasible, but more often than not, that’s just something we tell ourselves so that we don’t have to  deal with the uncomfortable reality of change.

If you do find yourself working for the boss from hell, leave before the stress kills you, both figuratively and literally. Once you decide to leave, here are a few basicsthat will improve your job search:

  1. Get active on LinkedIn in your particular field of expertise. This means interacting within Groups, as well as creating content for LinkedIn Pulse
  2. Browse open job positions on LinkedIn as well as other career sites, taking note of skills you don’t yet possess
  3. Learn those skills at your job by requesting training, being part of a specific project, or by learning it yourself. Acquire these skills by whatever legal means you can imagine
  4. Work on building your own website as a portfolio to showcase your thoughts, talents, abilities, and general knowledge
  5. Use social media to connect with other like-minded individuals, past employees and other potential contacts

This will take time, so set a realistic hard date for your exit once you’ve figured out how much time you need to acquire new skills and showcase current ones. This is of utmost importance, because it will solidify your plan in your own mind and make it more real. And, of course, don’t be afraid to fail. Just remember to document and learn.

How to make the whole organisation agile?

Storytelling is a crucial tool for culture change, because often, nothing else works. Charts leave listeners bemused. Prose remains unread. Dialogue is just too laborious and slow. When faced with the task of persuading a group of managers or front-line staff in a large organization to embrace a major change, storytelling is the only thing that works.


Change management, Resistance and risk management – a hard lesson learnt


I came across this brief slide – I didn’t hear the presentation first hand but the topic itself prompted a great deal of thinking and reflection upon a valuable lesson I learnt recently.

The background

Recently I had a short spell in a tech company that had experienced huge growth and doing fantastically well in recent years. It deliberately maintains a startup mentality but has an aspiration to be more mature in its corporate governance aspects – processes, controls, compliance and risk management. Enter me to the stage – I signed up to a role in a tiny risk management and audit team and saw a great deal of opportunities in implementing risk management from ground up in a greenfield environment. Without going into much details, building a risk management framework is no mean feat – it entails tangible deliverables such as risk process, appetite, reporting, roles and responsibilities and ongoing compliance and maintenance. An effective risk management framework also includes a crucial soft element – risk aware culture that permeates through the organisation so people consciously talk about risk and weave risks into their daily business conversation.

Typically and conveniently, implementing the tangible stuff is the way to go. Usually backed by senior management or compliance regulatory requirements, certain things must be in place to discharge senior management and the board responsibilities. However, without the soft culture environment, many of these processes, reports and tasks remain a paper exercise or deliver limited business values. That’s one of the reasons that risk management sometimes is still perceived as functional support team and struggles to win a seat in the high level decision making round table (again another hefty topic).

Now back to my experience. Within the first 3 weeks, I had drafted a risk management maturity roadmap with strategic and tactical plan items – the tangible and soft elements. I managed to obtain an in-principle endorsement of it without an agreement on exactly what is to be done. I was then tasked with a number of incumbent ‘risk/audit’ projects – some must-dos and some operationally-focused topics that one would say that wasn’t derived from a risk-based planning (that’s a different topic). The only piece of risk-focused project was business continuity implementation, which deals with disruption and availability risks. I sought to leverage on this project to firstly get to quickly understand the most critical parts of the business and secondly, promote risk management as a school of thought and get to people’s mind about its importance and value adding capability. I conducted informal and formal interviews and workshops, always started the conversation with an introduction of who risk management team is – what we do, how we do it and what value we can add, before launching into a tangible risk topic that was business continuity. It was a rather exhilarating experience as I put risk ‘on the map’ – interviewing 50 plus mid and senior managers in a space of 2 months.


I was not Messi in risk management, but I was battling hard and much of time I was battling alone. I had the passion and desire in abundance and hoped hard work and persistence would overcome every challenge. I was working 10-12 hours a day in the office plus some hours at nights. Time flew by but I felt I was in the zone and making solid progress.

So I think I did…

In hindsight, I neglected an important thing to do. To put it in an analogy – I was a charged up and prepared warrior, carrying my swords and jumped right into the battlefield, with my fists clenched and eyes on the target, I fought a hard battle and importantly I made advances according to my war plan, I was hitting milestones. However, I forgot to stop in between battles and turn around and to communicate to my fellow warriors, to report on wins, losses and problems, to ask for reinforcement, to ask for advice, to tell them where I am going and most crucially why I am going that way and doing that thing. Well that’s a bit of exaggeration, I did, but not enough. I lost sight in my own backyard.


Especially when you are new to a company, what I did was doomed to fail – the odds were against me, I was going to fight to my death – either being recognised as a warrior that stupidly took up an unwinnable fight on my own and lost, or most likely I would be seen as someone who didn’t plan well, misjudged the problem, failed to come up with the right solution, failed to see negative obstacles, failed to communicate and most importantly failed to deliver.

I did fail by the way. I am no longer with this company.

When I reflected upon this experience, I could easily blamed a million other things that didn’t go my way.

  • I didn’t have a manager that understood my mission and my war plan, and failed to support me
  • It was a hard battle that no one had fought before
  • The team failed to see what I did was planting the seed and it will take time to yield fruits
  • The team didn’t recognise my efforts and I was helping the team
  • I could go on…

But as I look hard at myself and striping it all down, I was leading a project of change management – changing the risk culture in this case. This project invariably has a lot of obstacles and resistance – people, entrenched mindset, existing way of work, selling the value – the stuff on the battleground. Launching into the battle with a crafted game plan (maturity roadmap), armed with a set of weapons (risk management experience and tools) and a determined mindset can only last you so long. My success also depended on team support, collaboration and communication.

My battle was not lost on the battleground, but was lost in my war room and in my reinforcement and my support battalion. Like a game of football, Messi alone cannot win a game, he needs his team – a coordinated team, a team with shared belief and vision and a supportive team. I didn’t have it and I failed to build one before I went battling.


In any change management project in business or life, resistance is a false proposition – resistance to change doesn’t exist (well said Richard, even I don’t know you). In my case, the number one contributor to my failure that I had control of was ‘Communication’. A hard lesson to learn, but a valuable lesson learnt.

#failure, #lessonlearnt, #riskmanagement, #projectmanagement, #communication, #teambuilding