The Psychology of Letting Go, and Admitting Others into the Decision-Making Tent

A little-known fact:  the higher you move up in an organization, the more you must let go and share power to be successful.

Leaders typically get to a position of power based on their expertise and/or ability to control and drive others towards specific outcomes, without leaving too many broken and bleeding by the wayside. Ultimately though, those abilities will hamper leaders as they move up, and ultimately shoot their objectives (and careers) in the foot.

It’s rough, you pride yourself on running a tight ship, generating innovative ideas, keeping an eye on the day-to-day, continuously meeting impossible deadlines, leaving no stone unturned. But now your organization has a critical need to move in a new direction where you have no or little expertise, and you can’t possibly figure out a strategy for and execute on it alone. You are in foreign territory. You will need to share decision making, not only with your peers but even possibly with your direct reports and the direct reports of others. Not business as usual at all!

What happens to us when we must let go? Clear positions of hierarchy and power tend to make us feel comfortable because we think we know what the rules are. We know the pattern and have comfort and familiarity within it. If we are in control, we feel we are clear about where the buck stops. We can be dictatorial (benevolently or not), ultimately feeling like we have the wisdom to know what’s best, and the assurance we are in control of our own project destiny.

Organizations have progressively been moving to more matrixed ownership and decision making for a great reason: the outcomes are generally much more innovative and successful. But when we move to shared decision making-we feel like we have lost something.

Some of the losses can look like:

Control – “What happens to me if this fails?  “What if I have to do things I disagree with?”

Power – “I’m usually the best one to decide, and I like deciding and having others do what I say”.

Recognition – “I will be credited with the outcome which helps my career and pride in my work”.

How do we make the transition gracefully?

I love this saying: “True courage is not about being fearless, it is going on despite the fear”.

  1. First recognize that the fear is real inside of you, and the part of yourself that is uncomfortable deserves attention and assurance that it feels bad. It also deserves the assurance that you know and believe you can weather this storm. You’ve undoubtedly made it through much tougher circumstances and challenges in the past. Be compassionate and remind yourself of your strength.
  2. Summon and build resilience – Treat these opportunities as a learning and stretch experience for yourself. While uncomfortable, yielding to the best ideas will not only get your organization it’s best outcomes, you will build a level of strength and tolerance within yourself you may not have thought possible. Growing your inner strength and ability to withstand adversity and ambiguity going forward.
  3. Open to letting go of some unrealized burdens – we often don’t realize what a load of beliefs around responsibility and outcomes we may have been unnecessarily carrying. The chance to share complex problem solving and decision making with others does require more cooperation and healthy disagreement, but it also relieves individuals of carrying it all alone. It can be much more enjoyable too!

Our world is increasingly becoming more challenged and complex. We really can’t figure it all out alone, nor should we. Our problems and issues are too demanding.  The more we go toward shared decision making and idea generation, the stronger we become as individual leaders, while securing the best outcomes for our organizations and our future.

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