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Lead More, Control Less

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Unleash Commitment, Initiative, and Innovation

In their decades of leading groups all over the world, Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff discovered they could get superior results by creating an unconventional approach to leadership. Leaders still need to get everyone aligned around the same goals. But to maximize energy, creativity, and productivity, they gain more by focusing on structure rather than behavior, enabling people to take responsibility and manage themselves. 

Lead More, Control Less describes eight essential skills for establishing a culture of autonomy and self-leadership. Using examples and case studies, Weisbord and Janoff describe how leaders can share responsibility, defuse group conflicts, show everyone the big picture, and more. With this approach, leaders truly gain more control by giving it up.

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11 Chapters

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1 Control Structure, Not People


Leading Organizations, Teams, Task Forces, and Committees


With the right structures, people will learn more, teach one another, and exercise a level of control you cannot impose.

Change the division of labor and you change everything.

You overturn convention when you encourage people to use discretion in their work and to share information, coordination, and control of their work.

In this chapter we suggest how you can start: control what’s controllable.

ERIC TRIST, A CREATOR OF “SOCIOTECHNICAL SYSTEMS, went down into a South Yorkshire coal mine in the 1940s and came up “a changed man.” He had seen a mining system that engineers could not conceive. Enabled by a new roof-control technology, the miners and managers had formed self-managing work teams. Every miner learned multiple skills in place of narrow specialties. At a higher level of technology, the miners rediscovered the craftsmanship of their grandfathers. The mines with self-managing teams had higher output, less absenteeism, and fewer accidents than did traditional mines with tight supervision.


2 Let Everyone Be Responsible


Sharing Risk, Increasing Initiative


Many leaders act as though it all rests on their shoulders.

The more you take on yourself, the more likely it is that people will defer to your authority, delegate upward, and wait to be told what to do.

Citing dependency as an excuse for tightening control is the world’s oldest self-fulfilling prophecy. You will always get more of what you don’t want.

You can overturn this convention by giving coordination and control to the people doing the work.

The advanced skill is discovering how much you can give away and what happens when you do it.

In this chapter we will help you discover if you are ready.

DEPENDENCY COMES NATURALLY; RESPONSIBILITY MUST be learned. So much in us works against our taking responsibility. We are born dependent and grow up deferring to authority. Faced with ambiguity, we sink into self-doubt. Asking leaders to decide for us is as natural as breathing. It should be obvious that the collective knows more about how a system works than any leader. People rarely know the significance of what they know. They can gain an understanding of the whole only by interacting with one another.


3 Consider Anxiety “Blocked Excitement”


Managing Tension, Managing Yourself


Anxiety plagues leaders. It affects people’s reactions to new technology, competition, customer preferences, budget cuts, precipitous layoffs, and revised organization charts.

Heightened tension brings rumors, increased dependency, conflict, and even paralysis.

You can experience anxiety as an inevitable hassle. You also can make it a valued friend.

Treating anxiety as “blocked excitement” gives you useful, if unconventional, leadership options.

In this chapter we show you how to think of anxiety as creativity bottled up by circumstances beyond your control.

ANXIETY. EVERYBODY GETS IT. NOBODY LOVES IT. IF YOU watch the nightly news, you wallow in anxiety. You may focus on a single dramatic event. You may also experience free-floating butterflies in a chaotic world. In school and college, you encountered anxiety at test time. You were a rare student if you learned to handle it skillfully. You will not do that if you consider anxiety a painful defect rather than a door to right action. When the unexpected happens, you face two predictable challenges: One is containing your own feelings. The second is helping others contain theirs. You can deny anxiety it, curse it, or blame the handiest person, who is often yourself. You also can use anxious feelings to discover new sources of creativity. The advanced skill starts with accepting feelings you would rather went away. If you want to lead more, don’t try to control anxiety. Instead, accept and channel it.


4 Avoid “Taking It Personally”


Swimming in a Sea of Authority Projections


If you are a leader, people make up stories about you, and you about them.

These stories stay hidden, but the underlying feelings and odd behavior leak out.

Acting on emotional ups and downs in reaction to others’ words and deeds causes unnecessary suffering.

Our projections affect co-workers, bosses, customers, suppliers, and family.

Common responses are withdrawal and confrontation. The advanced course requires owning your projections and letting others have theirs.

In this chapter we help you experience how you create “reality.”

PROJECTION MEANS ATTRIBUTING TO OTHERS QUALITIES that originate in us. Think how you react to somebody in a uniform or clerical collar; then imagine the same person in shorts and a T-shirt. That is projection. Or notice what comes to your mind when somebody says, “My name is so-and-so. I’m in charge of this meeting.” Whether you resist or cooperate depends on what you project on that person’s looks, demeanor, and tone of voice. The story you make up is yours alone.


5 Disrupt Fight or Flight


Letting Differences Work for You


Our tendency to fight and polarize or to withhold ideas and feelings colors all experience.

Much leadership training includes ways to overcome, undercut, circumvent, curtail, suppress, and eliminate tendencies that for most of us come naturally.

That is not the whole story. We also have a built-in capacity for cooperation, community, creativity, and integrity.

No two of us are alike. We all do our best or worst, depending on circumstances. The advanced skill is making all feelings legitimate while minimizing the impact of negative actions.

Differences cannot be controlled.

In this chapter we demonstrate a few simple ways to seize the moment when differences threaten to divert people from their goals.

NOT LONG AFTER WORLD WAR II, SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST Solomon Asch did legendary experiments to discover the conditions under which people resist group pressure. He presented student volunteers with a line drawn on a card. They were asked to select an identical line on another card displaying one correct and two wrong lines. All but a “subject” were briefed to select wrong lines. The subject disagreed repeatedly. Within a dozen trials, three out of four subjects pretended to go along like sheep. Asch had found that most subjects eventually gave up their reality rather than stand alone.


6 Include the Right People


Creating Conditions for Fast Action


Thousands of meetings take place daily with key people missing.

Every leader knows that meetings with key people missing give rise to more meetings, misunderstandings, delays, foot-dragging, low commitment, political games, and cynicism about meetings.

The fix is structural: it is holding meetings with all key parties present. Otherwise why waste your time?

The advanced skill is involving the right people all the time. That is something you can control.

In this chapter we show you how.

THE SIMPLEST LEADERSHIP ACT YOU CAN DO IS GETTING the right people in one place at one time. This ought to be your bedrock procedure for formulating a strategic plan, solving a problem, or implementing a decision. Sure, that can be hard to do, but is it any harder than wasting time knowing you’ll be more frustrated later?

You have every reason to ask of each day’s meetings, “Who needs to be there to get the job done?” It astonishes us that leaders, knowing that as well as their own names, still fail to do it. We are not talking involvement, participation, input, feedback, or focus groups. We are talking about the shortest, fastest, most economical way to solve problems and make decisions that require many people cooperating. We suggest that any leader who gets the right people in every meeting is assuredly defying convention. The only thing “advanced” about it is the courage to insist on it and schedule meetings only when you can get what you want from them. (The Internet makes that much easier than it was 25 years ago, when we first insisted on it.)


7 Experience the “Whole Elephant”


Acting Decisively with Full Knowledge


Everything connects to everything else.

Experts are only one source of information. Every person in a system knows things that no one else does.

Multiple perspectives greatly improve problem solving and decision making.

One advantage of acting on this reality is gaining information you might miss.

Another advantage is the potential for people to hear one another, thus giving everybody a more complete picture than any one person has, including you.

In this chapter we show you how to discover your “whole elephant,” building competence, confidence, and commitment throughout an organization.

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANTIS A POEM BY JOHN Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887) based on an old Buddhist teaching. Each of six blind men declares that the part of the elephant he touches defines the whole beast—side like a wall; tusk, a spear; trunk, a snake; leg, a tree; ear, a fan; and tail, a rope. Saxe concludes with a moral that resonates today in many organizations and communities:


8 Surface Unspoken Agreements


Finding Common Ground Where You Least Expect It


Many leaders spend 80 percent of their time managing irreconcilable conflicts that make up 20 percent of a crowded agenda.

Many people do not recognize the extent to which they agree. They are too busy lobbying others to see things their way.

The advanced skill is treating disagreements as inevitable and legitimate.

Instead of trying to control disagreements, lead by accepting them as natural.

In this chapter we show you how to separate resolvable conflict from value differences and lead people from words to action in record time.

DICTIONARIES DEFINE >common ground AS> “MUTUAL> understanding.” We define it as “propositions on which every person agrees to act.” Common ground exists or not. Nobody need give up anything to discover common ground. Nobody need go along to preserve harmony. That is one convention you can leave behind. People often use disagreements on X and Y as an excuse for not cooperating on A, B, and C. Discovering where they are together helps people get past this dilemma. They free themselves to support decisions and solutions of mutual concern. Many people engaged in local abortion debates have found that those who identify as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” will not change these deeply held values; however, they nearly always agree on the importance of daycare centers.


Epilogue: What’s Next for Leaders?


WISHING OTHERS WOULD BE BETTER LEADERS IS LIKE praying for a miraculous rescue from a bottomless pit. You will be disappointed. Making yourself into a better leader seems like a surer bet. It can be trial, a challenge, or a joy. It means traveling a road without end. You could visit places you have never been. You might find hidden parts of yourself. You might even come to accept parts you once denied or despised. You could achieve greater satisfaction, more freedom, greater self-confidence, and a growing ability to accept others as they are. That is the road we have been on. This book is our travelogue. Along the way we learned that advanced skills are any that enable us to do things we could not do before. Usually, that means turning convention upside down.

So, what’s next for you?

The honest answer is that we cannot predict the future, especially of leadership in a world of nonstop change. We can tell you how we answer the “What’s next?” question for ourselves. We are going to overturn convention whenever what we used to do no longer serves us. It can be something simple, taken for granted, that may have far-reaching consequences. Years ago we decided we would avoid windowless meeting rooms whenever possible. We attribute a great deal of our success to seeking out spaces that people like to be in. That is something we control anytime we can. It has nothing to do with “leadership style” except that we behave better with people who like their workplaces.


Appendix A: Practicing Percept Language


Translate these sentences from object language to percept language:

Object Language

Percept Language

a. “She’s a friendly person.”

a. “I have her be the .”

b. “This team annoys me.”

b. “I annoy myself with the .”

c. “You are very smart.”

c. “I have the be a .”

d. “That was awesome!”

d. “I have that be an .”

Answers are at the end of this appendix.

Write a sentence in everyday (object) language describing how you feel about percept language.

“Right now, I ______________________________________________.”

Now translate your sentence into percept language (change it to I, use active verbs, and locate all of the action inside of you).

“I ______________________ [active verb] myself with the ______________________ part of me.”

Now describe somebody you know well in everyday language.

“I think that [person’s name] is ______________________, ______________________, and ______________________.”


Appendix B: Leading in Cyberspace


VIRTUAL MANAGEMENT, BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE RISE OF the Internet, globalization, outsourcing, telecommuting, and virtual teams, is management of frequently widely dispersed groups and individuals with rarely, if ever, meeting them face-to-face. (Wikipedia)

This is a billion-dollar question in the virtual age. We have given it a great deal of thought. We have led planning meetings online. We have conducted virtual seminars. We have made presentations, both to people we can see on-screen and those we can’t see. We have talked with numerous others who have done likewise. We all come to the same conclusions:

There is no virtual substitute so satisfying as working with people face-to-face. To fully trust our own actions with others, we like to see, hear, share meals with, and—culture permitting—shake hands with our business associates.

We have no choice but to get as good as we can at leading online. For many meetings that is the only economically feasible option. Most leaders already spend more time than they would like on the road. There is never enough time. Virtual meetings add greatly to your capability to influence others.



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