Lead More, Control Less

8 Advanced Leadership Skills That Overturn Convention

Marvin Weisbord (Author) | Sandra Janoff (Author)

Publication date: 10/12/2015

Lead More, Control Less

In their decades of leading groups all over the world, Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff discovered they could get better results by helping people coordinate and control their own work rather than by issuing orders from above. This led people to higher motivation, greater creativity, and longer-lasting results than more traditional practices. The most effective way to lead, they found, is to focus everyone on the same goal, set up structures that encourage self-regulation, and get out of the way. But this means learning a set of unconventional skills.

Lead More, Control Less describes eight essential skills for establishing a culture that encourages people to take charge of themselves. Using examples and case studies, Weisbord and Janoff show leaders how they can share responsibility, defuse group conflicts, enable everyone to get the big picture, and more. And they also help leaders deal with personal pressures, such as managing anxiety and understanding why the negative reactions they get may have absolutely nothing to do with them.

By wearing authority more lightly, leaders can unleash commitment, initiative, and innovation beyond what they ever experienced before. Mastering these eight skills frees leaders to concentrate on larger issues, confident their people can handle the day-to-day work. With this approach, leaders truly gain more control by giving it up, using their position to empower others.

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More About This Product

Overview

In their decades of leading groups all over the world, Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff discovered they could get better results by helping people coordinate and control their own work rather than by issuing orders from above. This led people to higher motivation, greater creativity, and longer-lasting results than more traditional practices. The most effective way to lead, they found, is to focus everyone on the same goal, set up structures that encourage self-regulation, and get out of the way. But this means learning a set of unconventional skills.

Lead More, Control Less describes eight essential skills for establishing a culture that encourages people to take charge of themselves. Using examples and case studies, Weisbord and Janoff show leaders how they can share responsibility, defuse group conflicts, enable everyone to get the big picture, and more. And they also help leaders deal with personal pressures, such as managing anxiety and understanding why the negative reactions they get may have absolutely nothing to do with them.

By wearing authority more lightly, leaders can unleash commitment, initiative, and innovation beyond what they ever experienced before. Mastering these eight skills frees leaders to concentrate on larger issues, confident their people can handle the day-to-day work. With this approach, leaders truly gain more control by giving it up, using their position to empower others.

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Marvin Weisbord

Marvin Weisbord consulted with business firms, medical schools, and hospitals from 1969 to 1992. He was a partner in the consulting firm Block Petrella Weisbord for 20 years and is a fellow of the World Academy of Productivity Science. Productive Workplaces (2012), now in its third edition, is considered a classic. He also authored Organizational Diagnosis (1978) and Discovering Common Ground (1992).

He is co-director, along with Sandra Janoff, of Future Search Network (formerly SearchNet), an international non-profit dedicated to community service, colleagueship, and learning. For more information, please visit www.futuresearch.net.



Visit Author Page - Sandra Janoff

Sandra Janoff, PhD, consults worldwide with corporations, government agencies, and communities and leads training workshops in strategic planning and leadership. Her research on the relationship between moral reasoning and legal education was featured in the Minnesota Law Review. She also is co-author (with Yvonne Agazarian) of a definitive treatise on small-group systems theory.

She is co-director, along with Marvin Weisbord, of Future Search Network (formerly SearchNet) an international non-profit dedicated to community service, colleagueship and learning. For more information, please visit www.futuresearch.net.

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Table of Contents

Lead More, Control Less

Contents

Why This Book?

Introduction: Self Control Is the Best Control

1 Control Structure, Not People

2 Let Everyone Be Responsible

3 Consider Anxiety “Blocked Excitement”

4 Avoid “Taking It Personally”

5 Disrupt Fight or Flight

6 Include the Right People

7 Experience the “Whole Elephant”

8 Surface Unspoken Agreements

Epilogue: What’s Next for Leaders?

Appendix A: Practicing Percept Language

Appendix B: Leading in Cyberspace

References

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Authors

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Excerpt

Lead More, Control Less

LEADERSHIP SKILL

Control Structure, Not People

Leading Organizations, Teams, Task Forces, and Committees

ESSENTIALS

  • 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.

Thousands of others have since learned from the miners’ innovation. Much of what we call “dysfunctional behavior” happens in work structures that prevent people from using everything they know. You probably have heard of places where jobs are so narrowly defined that even robots would be bored. Restrictive work rules undermine productivity. Leaders who coordinate and control from above settle for mediocre outcomes. You will get better results structuring work so that people control themselves. You cannot improve fragmented systems by teaching people human relations skills. Think of structure as giving people tools, knowledge, and authority that reduce the need for outside experts and tight supervision.

Unconventional? Yes. Effective? Proven repeatedly by others for decades and documented conclusively by Marvin Weisbord in Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning, and Community in the 21st Century. The only question is whether you can do it. Studying your own behavior is the advanced course.

Controlling What’s Controllable

We know the power of this idea because since 1982 we have been refining our leadership methods in a strategic meeting we call Future Search. We, along with thousands of others, have learned to control structure, not people, in all manner of work. If, for example, you walked in on a Future Search planning meeting anywhere in the world, you might see a dozen to hundreds of people sitting in small groups. Each group has a stake in the meeting’s outcomes. Each selects its own discussion leader, timekeeper, recorder, and reporter, as well as other roles it deems necessary. Participants explore all views, prepare reports, and commit to action. They draw on everyone’s skills and experience. The chart pads could be in a language that neither you nor we understand. People are managing themselves. Most have never done anything like it before. We are not irrelevant to their success. We set up the structures they use to stretch themselves.

We emphasize this to reinforce that most people are capable of self-control even when they do not know it. Setting up the right conditions, we believe, is a leader’s central task—to increase the capability of the whole for responsible action. Here is the paradox: To self-organize, people need someone in authority to authorize them! That’s you.

Shift the division of labor, the locus of control, and the responsibility for coordination to the people doing the work; you will see individuals spontaneously focus, collaborate, and produce.

Communicate Purpose

A good practice for exercising control is starting each day with the question What do I need from others today? Keep your goals front and center. Let others figure out how to get there. Years ago Marv studied the leadership practices of 10 medical school deans. One always had a clean desk. Each day he worked from a single sheet of paper before him. At the top in big letters was his school’s mission. Below in boldface was the priorities list. Under each priority was the name of the person in charge. On the paper he had noted any action step required that day. Finally, under his appointments, he wrote down what he would emphasize in each encounter. He controlled the whole enterprise from a single sheet of paper!

Control Time

Time is your scarcest resource. Like Old Man River, it just keeps rolling. Some goals take hours, others days or months. Time is among the few things you should control whenever possible.

There are a few others. For each priority, you are choreographing a dance in time with three other controllable variables: goal, people, and place. Satisfy yourself that you are getting the right people for the goal in a place that makes work easier and that you are allowing realistic time frames.

Clarify What You Want Right Now

Based on your role, let people know what you expect of them anytime you bring up your agenda.

Foster Healthy Conditions

These may not seem like much. You can control working conditions most of the time. If you make that a given day after day, you will make a huge difference in morale and performance.

Time Start and end on time. That takes discipline. It is also a simple way to make a huge difference in an organization’s culture. If you wait for latecomers, you have handed over control to them. If you run over an expected end time, you stir up resentment unless you consult people first.

Meeting spaces All significant changes proceed one meeting at a time. So choose meeting rooms with care. Life in the twenty-first century is stressful enough without working in windowless dungeons. They are bad for your mental and physical health. We have never heard anyone complain about meeting rooms with windows and daylight.

We arrived at a conference center in Hawaii to find that a meeting arranger had closed the heavy drapes to “avoid distractions.” Opening the curtains, we gazed out of floor-to-ceiling windows at the great Pacific Ocean, whales spouting in the distance, palm trees swaying in the wind, breakers rolling to the beach. We assured our worrier that this spectacular view was a problem we could live with. The lightness of spirit you could feel in that room persisted long after people let go of the scenery and got down to business.

Seating Chairs in rows direct conversation to the leader. Sitting in circles makes interaction easier. Years ago we had to remove tables from a room too small for 60 participants. The limitation proved a blessing. We found that groups of six or eight make better contact when they don’t have tabletops between them. Comfortable chairs with wheels make it easy for them to configure themselves.

Tip: The next time you find chairs set up in rows, ask people to put themselves in a circle. Note the impact on the meeting.

Acoustics In rooms with bare walls and hard floors, sound bounces around like a ball on a squash court. Rooms with high ceilings may boom with echoes and people strain to hear. We like carpeted rooms with ceilings made to absorb sound. For large meetings we request cordless microphones that can be passed around like “talking sticks.” A good sound system may overcome unfortunate acoustics.

Healthy snacks We advocate adding fresh fruit and nuts to the pastry table. We are not the sugar police, but we know that everyone works better fueled by protein.

Accessibility Many places have laws requiring easily accessible rooms for people with disabilities. We suggest that you consider it essential that key spaces be accessible to all.

Sustainability Meetings mean little if we destroy our shrinking planet. Our late colleague Ralph Copleman recommended many items you can control: reusable name tags, note and chart pads made from recycled paper, ceramic coffee mugs, and a recycling bin in the room.

Cultural Norms Matter When Self-Control Is Your Goal

Become aware of cultural time norms. “Here we operate on XYZ time,” we have been told more than once. “It’s normal for people to come late.” We would be foolish to pretend that we can undo local customs. We also know we cannot do three hours of work between 9 a.m. and lunch when half the people don’t show up until 10.

Ronald Lippitt, co-inventor of group dynamics, created the “raggedy start” for early arrivals. Give them a task to do on their own. Have them talk to one other about what they are working on, analyze information from the previous meeting, generate questions, or anything that adds value. Latecomers join conversations or start new ones. Continue together when you have reached critical mass.

SUMMARY

Leadership Skill 1: Control Structure, Not People

Exercise maximal control in structuring teams, task forces, and committees. Be as clear as still water about goals. Above all, encourage self-organization, coordination, and control by those doing the work. During meetings control those few things people need to keep working on the task: goal focus, healthy conditions, respect for cultural norms, time boundaries, and self-managing. Insist that others share responsibility for time and output. Indeed, that is what accountability should mean.

Using Leadership Skill 1

  • Think of the next important meeting you will lead.
  • Write down the goal. To what extent is it shared?
  • Who is coming? Whom else do you need?
  • Do you have the right room with good acoustics?
  • Can you reach your goal in the time available?
  • Do you seek a group decision?
  • If that is not possible, are you prepared to act?
  • What outcome do you want?

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Endorsements

“As a firm believer in overturning convention, I want to endorse this radical approach to leadership. Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff provide insight, guidance, and support for leaders who practice what I call ‘conscious leadership’ while aspiring to make a positive difference and enable people to grow. I highly recommend this book to fellow leaders on this journey.”
—John Mackey, cofounder and co-CEO, Whole Foods

“Controlling people never makes great things happen. I have found that applying the principles in this book takes patience, time, and imagination. The result is always rewarding and well worth the effort.”
—Jesper Brodin, Global Head of Range and Supply, IKEA

“For over two decades I have applied Weisbord and Janoff’s principles in making public policy and practicing good governance. Theirs is not just a way of leading others but a way of living life more fully.”
—Aideen McGinley, Northern Ireland Trustee, BBC Trust, and Trustee, Carnegie UK Trust

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