How to Lead With Influence and Not Control

How to Lead with Influence and Not Control

Let me be honest. I can be a controlling person. It’s part of my character. I know that. I test that way with StrengthsFinders. If no one is taking charge, I’ll take over the room. (And, not because I’m extroverted. I’m not.) If we both come to a four-way stop at the same time—as nice as I try to be and as much as I love others—I won’t stall long for you to decide if you’re going. It’s just how I’m wired. If the leader isn’t in the room, I’ll lead.

I think my team, however—or at least I hope—would tell you I don’t perform as a controlling leader. Some may even wish I controlled more. It’s been a long process to discipline myself not to respond how I am naturally inclined to do.

Leaders, if you want to to have a healthy team environment, you must learn to control less and influence more. The differences are measured in the results of creating a healthy team.

I have learned thought that successful leaders understand the difference in leading with influence and leading with control.

Here’s what I mean by the results of controlling versus influence:

In an organization where control is dominant:

  • The leader’s ideas win over the team’s ideas—every time.
  • The team follows, but only out of necessity (for a paycheck)—not willingly.
  • Change happens through fear and intimidation—not motivation.
  • People are managed closely—rather than led.
  • Team members feel unappreciated and often under-utilized—rather than empowered.
  • The organization is limited to the skills and ability of the controlling leader—not the strength of a team.
  • Passion is weak—burnout is common.

But,

In an organization where influence is dominant:

  • The ultimate goal is what’s best for the organization, not an individual.
  • Team spirit develops as relationships and trust grow.
  • Willing followers, and other leaders, are attracted to the team.
  • Leadership recruitment and development is a continued endeavor.
  • Change is promoted through desire and motivation, not obligation.
  • The organization has the expanded resources of a team of unique individuals.
  • People feel empowered and appreciated.

Leaders, take your pick—control or influence. You can’t have it both ways. One will always be more dominant. Granted, I could write a whole blog post (and I have) on the messiness of leading by influence. There will often be confusion, lack of clarity and misunderstandings. It comes when all the rules aren’t clearly defined. This, however, is a tension to be managed not a problem to be solved. (I think Andy Stanley said that first.)

When it comes to creating organizational health—influence will always trump control. Every time.

Have you ever been or worked for a controlling leader?

Have you been in an environment where influence is dominant?

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