Monday, June 6, 2011

The Divine Art of Letting Go

Image from: Musings from a Writer

When the best leader's work is done the people say, "We did it ourselves." - Lao Tzu

Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader is not a simple task. Up until someone becomes a leader/manager they've only tasted success as a direct result of their own work. They exerted control over a problem domain and time and again delivered solutions. Those solutions were rewarded well until one day the long-awaited promotion to "management" arrived.

But just getting the title of "manager" does not automatically bestow the wisdom and self-confidence of achieving results through others. As I learned myself many years ago that takes time and practice. It takes the development of new skills including, in particular: creating space and letting go. A great leader creates the space and lets his or her team go to learn, grow, experiment, succeed and even sometimes fail. It is often through our failures and mistakes that we learn the best of lessons. So to, my new manager, with your new team!

How does one make this difficult transition?

One helpful trick I've used and shared to make this transition easier is a very simple reframe: A new manager typically has an understandable sense of 'loss of control' when suddenly having to depend on others to deliver results by which he/she will be measured and compensated. As you are no longer doing the work directly how can you be sure it's getting done and done right? At the first sign of trouble or doubt many new managers unfortunately jump in and complete the task themselves to ensure success. This is a terrible mistake because it doesn't allow the team member to learn for themselves and it doesn't teach the new manager to guide instead of jump in.

The reframe I propose to a new manager is not to think of yourself as having lost control but instead visualize having gained incredible tools for increased productivity! Each member on your team is an extra pair of hands and eyes and a brain that will allow you to achieve more than you could ever achieve by yourself. As a manager/leader you will set the vision, the tone and the approach (preferably in concert with your team) to deliver results that are greater than the sum of all of you put together and orders of magnitude greater than you would have delivered yourself!

When you let go of your team you allow them to act with their own creativity and initiative. As each member brings their own perspective and talents to the table a cohesion forms and an environment builds for tremendous productivity.

I've found that when a newly birthed leader sees not the loss of control but instead sees the extension and multiplication of himself/herself it significantly eases the discomfort of this new role.

Why did I title this posting "The Divine Art of Letting Go"? Why "divine"? 

By no means is this blog meant to be 'religious' in any sense of the word but I'd like to borrow the metaphor of the Creation from Genesis. In the beginning there was nothingness. God had to first create the space in order for the rest of creation - the heavens and the earth and the light and the dark, etc. to proceed. Many consider the ability to create as a divine attribute. I wanted to borrow that notion to elevate the nature and importance of this "letting go" concept. Creating a space and stepping back to allow for learning and growth of your team is very difficult and even unpredictable but it is also mystical and magnificent because you've enabled others to realize their own greatness. I also use "divine" because I wanted to convey the sense that it takes a "supreme being" to actually be able to successfully 'let go'.

Another parallel, one that I face weekly with this blog, is when authors are about to begin writing they start with an empty page or an empty screen. It is this empty space gives the author a place into which they can build and grow their story.

I now present you with your empty space. What great things will your team achieve?

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." - Lao Tzu

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