The Bottleneck is at the top!

What Do You Enable?

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

When it comes to leadership, L. David Marquet likes to frame the discussion into four broad areas: Control, Competence, Clarity and Courage. With respect to courage, he often highlights the issue of the personal struggle a leader must make to break out of the old “command and control” model or what we know as the “leader/follower” model. It’s “fun” to be in charge. It’s fun to be “the” decision maker. Yet we know, intuitively, that we cannot scale our companies to the level consumers may be demanding if we do not relinquish control at some point. Sooner or later, if we are to build sustainable and scalable organizations, we have to develop leaders who can make wise decisions and who think for themselves. Does that frighten you?

If so, then you may not appreciate my wordplay on an old saying (love isn’t love until you give it away) Control isn’t control until you give it away! Have you ever noticed that on a bottle the bottleneck is at the top? Well the same is true of our organizations, the bottleneck is at the top. Usually a great deal of the reason for the bottleneck being at the top is that the entrepreneur, owner, CEO, GM, President or other executive is holding control to him/herself rather than developing leaders who are competent, think for themselves (autonomy and control) and are intimately aware of the organization’s visions and goals (clarity.)

This very topic came up on a LinkedIn® group discussion as “When is it okay to micromanage.” Based on a quick read through the many comments, it seemed that most of the respondents believed it was never okay to micromanage. It was fine to help an employee requesting help which meant that the view was that help was on-the-job-training, not actually micromanaging in the usual sense of that word. My own comment was that if you are micromanaging you have failed as a leader. Holding all “important” decisions for yourself is micromanaging. It doesn’t allow your people to grow, learn, make mistakes, recover and gain the experience that is needed to make decisions on their own. Your organization will be limited and create less value for all stakeholders.

Many traditional definitions of a leader either imply or explicitly state that a leader must have followers. The understanding is that the follower does what s/he is told and the leader does the telling. We need an updated definition of leadership that embraces a leader/leader model for our organizations. Here are my thoughts on that new definition:

A leader is a person who brings resources to bear by inspiring others to contribute their talents to reach for:

  • a clearly articulated vision for a new desired state of being
  • new levels of individual and organizational competence
  • independent thinking and personal leadership

A leader’s primary function, in my mind, is to first be able to find and develop that vision or as Simon Sinek says, the “Why,” and then eloquently state it in such a way as to inspire all the stakeholders to embrace that vision. Second, the leader must be willing to put in the effort and commit the resources to make sure that the training needed to develop individual and organizational competence is made available. And finally, the leader, having developed clarity of purpose (vision) and organizational competence must be willing to let others lead in their own spheres of influence. If you insist on being the decision maker you are enabling followers, not developing leaders. A leader has the courage to let others decide and lead and as the competence increases, relinquish more and more decision making to others. A modern leader creates leadership at every level of the organization.

Why do we care about all this? For one thing it is now clear even to the many people who had been holding on for things to “get back to normal,” that no such thing is going to happen. Our business environment has permanently changed. Not only that, we can see it is continuing to change at an increasingly rapid pace. Needless to say, the leader/follower model no longer fits what we need in this fast changing global economy. I’m with Marquet on this, the Leader/Leader model is what will take us to the level of performance we need to achieve. And, if you want to see his model at work in the private sector, take the time to read American Icon.

So the questions remain, “What do you enable?” Are you enabling leaders or followers? Are you enabling scalability or bottlenecks? Are you and your organization building for the future fast pace of change or still hoping for things to return to the good old days?