Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When leadership means finding a better balance between controlling and enabling

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on April 13, 2019

… and some thoughts as to how and when controlling and enabling can come into direct conflict with each other with all of the consequences that can arise from that.

By now I have added enough postings to this blog on leadership to fill a book, or at least a small one. And that would probably even hold true as an objective assessment if only my individually stand-alone postings on that topic were to be counted, leaving off relevant installments in larger series-long efforts and even just series that focus on this general topic itself (e.g. see Adaptive Leadership and Thriving in the Face of Change, as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 as postings 404-416.)

Quite simply, there is always at least one more point that could be made, or issue that could be raised and discussed as to the nature of leadership and its best practices. And that would hold true for anyone, however experienced, who devotes any significant amount of their time and effort into studying and thinking about leadership and who seeks to lead more effectively themselves, from that. So I find myself adding to my list of blog installments on this topic again, with this posting. And the general issues that I would raise here, come in very large part from within prospective would-be leaders themselves, and not strictly speaking from the contexts and circumstances that they would have to navigate as they manage and lead.

My primary goal here is in fact to discuss two sets of issues as they intersect and as they effectively shape and even define each other. The first is that of control:

• Whether that goes from the top on down along the lines of a table of organization,
• Or whether it is encouraged and even required in others as they take a sense of ownership in what they do and in what they manage in their areas of responsibility there.

In its widest sense that expansion of leadership opportunity and responsibility can transcend title or position in a business, where experience and expertise and the interpersonal skills needed to create real value for the organization from them, are valued and supported, and so is the reasoned judgment of those who hold and would share such resources.

If a first reading of the title of this posting would lead some to assume that I would write more entirely of top-down leadership and from the perspective of a strict congruence between executive title and position, and leadership skills and their expression … they would be partly right as that is in fact a common pattern for most businesses, and for most organizations in general and certainly where overall organization-wide decisions have to be made. But I allow here for a wider leadership context as arises for need at least, in even more top-down managed organizations, and certainly as middle and lower level managers find need to organize and manage and lead the combined efforts of the members of the teams that specifically report to them and that they are responsible for.

And the second, sometimes conflicting imperative that I would write of here is that of enablement. And yes if a business is to be effective in making use of the fullest range of human resource capabilities that it has at its disposal and both on-staff and from shorter term employees, then both managerial and leadership control, and enablement have to rise to the status of imperatives there.

• I have at least occasionally written of leaving money on the table from entering into less than fully considered business deals. If the senior leadership of a business fails in carrying through on what should be their side to this duality: seeking to create value through an effective balance of control and enablement, or of control and empowerment or enfranchisement if you prefer, that can mean effectively losing that table too.

Where is the conflict that I write of here? If the senior executives of a business in effect squeeze too hard in their efforts to hold onto personal control on their part, limiting and even denying such decision making options for others under them, they can easily find they have created a situation where no one else there sees themselves having a stake or a voice in the business. And this means no one there, working for that senior leadership, seeing reason to take any extra steps in trying to offer more than absolutely required, or anything like a creative New there – and certainly if that would be met with resistance from above for not following the already standard and approved.

• You cannot legitimately expect creativity or the enthusiastic engagement that it grows from, from hands-on employees or lower level managers who see themselves as having no say and no real authority over what they do, and who as a result see themselves as being treated like drones.

When the senior executives, or even just the (singular) most senior executive at a business makes all decisions, that stifles input and insight that they would need too. They find themselves trying to lead in what has become an unnecessary information vacuum too. And all of this leads to that business being limited to having a more reactive-only capability too, and one with delayed response times at that. So when I write of enabling in the title to this posting, I am writing about enabling the business as a whole, as much as I am writing of enabling the people there as individuals. And when I write of control, and certainly as a measure of leadership, I write of the importance of taking a wider perspective there too. And finally, when I write here of addressing two specific areas of consideration as named in the title to this posting, I have in fact used them as an opening for more widely considering the business as a whole and its dynamics.

I began this short note by citing that I have successively touched upon and at least briefly noted a wide range of issues that relate to leadership and its best practices. And I write here, of how those issues that I have written of in this context, and a great many more that I have yet to touch upon, all intersect: all interact. That noted, I have still only touched on a few of the possible lines of connection that I could raise here in this brief discussion.

To briefly add one more puzzle piece to this mix, I have frequently written of the value of agility and flexibility in a business (see for example, my series: Intentional Management as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and its Page 4 and Page 5 continuations, for its Parts 1-51.) When the balance and distribution of control and authority, and enablement and opportunity that I write of here breaks down, capability of following anything like the intentional management approach that I offer there, with its focus on flexibility and agility, breaks down too. So I offer this posting as a view into businesses as a whole, as can be perceived through the lens of leadership and how it is attempted and pursued for two key sets of issues.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory.

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