Let Go & Lead
Meg Wheatley Author
Co-Founder of the Berkana Institute

On controlling chaos (6:20)

MEG WHEATLEY:
Well I want to talk about in the context of this wonderful phrase you’ve, you know, come up with for this series, Let Go and Lead because as leaders we are faced with more and more uncertainty, more and more crisis, more and more um impatience and cynicism and dependency; I think being a leader these days is almost mission impossible unless you really notice that you could change your beliefs at a fundamental level. So what I see going on is that leaders, their default function is command and control. So when a situation when we’re approaching crisis or uncertainty or god forbid chaos; what the leaders do, and this is was so evident for many years now especially after the global financial meltdown, is leader’s just assume they need to take back power. They need to exert tighter controls and, and they make like impossible for everyone beneath them. And they’re doing it in order to alleviate chaos but what I see happening is that when you try and control chaos from the top, or from your own, own persona as a leader, all you do is create more chaos and you disempower and disaffect the very people you need to get through a crisis. Well, so it’s a very difficult time for leadership and one of the things that’s making it unbearable is that leaders are choosing absolutely the wrong leadership style right now.

MARIL MACDONALD:
Well I want to talk about in the context of this wonderful phrase you’ve, you know, come up with for this series, Let Go and Lead because as leaders we are faced with more and more uncertainty, more and more crisis, more and more um impatience and cynicism and dependency; I think being a leader these days is almost mission impossible unless you really notice that you could change your beliefs at a fundamental level. So what I see going on is that leaders, their default function is command and control. So when a situation when we’re approaching crisis or uncertainty or god forbid chaos; what the leaders do, and this is was so evident for many years now especially after the global financial meltdown, is leader’s just assume they need to take back power. They need to exert tighter controls and, and they make like impossible for everyone beneath them. And they’re doing it in order to alleviate chaos but what I see happening is that when you try and control chaos from the top, or from your own, own persona as a leader, all you do is create more chaos and you disempower and disaffect the very people you need to get through a crisis. Well, so it’s a very difficult time for leadership and one of the things that’s making it unbearable is that leaders are choosing absolutely the wrong leadership style right now.

MARIL MACDONALD:
And you talk about command and control creating chaos. What, why is that? What happens?

MEG WHEATLEY:
Well as one person or as a small group of insulated advisors to a leader, you don’t have access to all the information you need. And you also, unintentionally perhaps, put in the minds of people, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll figure this one out.’ I haven’t met a senior leadership team that actually knows what it’s doing anymore. And I’m speaking about national government as well as large corporations or very large agencies. And I would love leaders to realize that as they narrow their focus and only work with a few trusted advisors, which is the arc that almost all leaders take when they are in crisis. But to realize that that decreases your capacity and the very people you need, who would be a wonderful resource of imagination and creativity and working twenty four seven are the people. And when you take it back to your office with a few advisors, the signal you’re sending to people is, we’ll figure it out and we’ll tell you what to do and people are becoming more and more dependent as they dynamic gains more attraction.

…One of the things Marvin Weisberg whose one of the elders in the field of organizational behavior pointed out to me many years ago is that since the 1940s when in the Welsh coal mines that became so dangerous that the supervisors stopped going down into the mines and productivity went up. He said since then we’ve known that self-managed teams or self-organized work or work where people feel they have control of how they do what they do they could still have fixed goals but that kind of freedom for self-managed teams. We have a lot of evidence that it is normally a minimum of thirty five percent more productive. So we know how to increase productivity and the fact that we haven’t is really the question for us.

So it’s not even, we’re not even being rational about this. I think it’s a much deeper dynamic. I was in a conversation with one of my son’s when he was twenty eight and he was, he’s, he’s too brilliant for me to handle but he told me that in his, in his work team, he was working his way through graduate school and his work team, when the boss was away, everyone worked much better. And I said well there is all this research that shows if you want productivity, increase productivity then you decrease supervision and you turn people loose to, you know you trust them. And I said but in spite of all that research, we still have organizations that are very tightly controlled and I wonder why that is, which was a serious question for me at the time.

He just looked at time like how dumb can you be mom? Well it’s all about power mom and that’s it. It’s really, we’re, we choose power over productivity and we choose control over effectiveness and that’s what we need to start noticing. And in doing that we also not only disempower people and reduce productivity and create a lot of problems for ourselves but we also as leaders, put ourselves in a position where guaranteed to feel lonely, and we’re guaranteed to be disliked. And—

MARIL MACDONALD:
What a wonderful place to be!

MEG WHEATLEY:
Yes! So even if you were only choosing this to create a more meaningful scenario for yourself as a leader. The leaders who are loved, and people don’t forget them, the leaders who are loved are those who have exhibited unending enduring trust in people and created the conditions for them to contribute.

MARIL MACDONALD:
And you talk about command and control creating chaos. What, why is that? What happens?

MEG WHEATLEY:
Well as one person or as a small group of insulated advisors to a leader, you don’t have access to all the information you need. And you also, unintentionally perhaps, put in the minds of people, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll figure this one out.’ I haven’t met a senior leadership team that actually knows what it’s doing anymore. And I’m speaking about national government as well as large corporations or very large agencies. And I would love leaders to realize that as they narrow their focus and only work with a few trusted advisors, which is the arc that almost all leaders take when they are in crisis. But to realize that that decreases your capacity and the very people you need, who would be a wonderful resource of imagination and creativity and working twenty four seven are the people. And when you take it back to your office with a few advisors, the signal you’re sending to people is, we’ll figure it out and we’ll tell you what to do and people are becoming more and more dependent as they dynamic gains more attraction.

…One of the things Marvin Weisberg whose one of the elders in the field of organizational behavior pointed out to me many years ago is that since the 1940s when in the Welsh coal mines that became so dangerous that the supervisors stopped going down into the mines and productivity went up. He said since then we’ve known that self-managed teams or self-organized work or work where people feel they have control of how they do what they do they could still have fixed goals but that kind of freedom for self-managed teams. We have a lot of evidence that it is normally a minimum of thirty five percent more productive. So we know how to increase productivity and the fact that we haven’t is really the question for us.

So it’s not even, we’re not even being rational about this. I think it’s a much deeper dynamic. I was in a conversation with one of my son’s when he was twenty eight and he was, he’s, he’s too brilliant for me to handle but he told me that in his, in his work team, he was working his way through graduate school and his work team, when the boss was away, everyone worked much better. And I said well there is all this research that shows if you want productivity, increase productivity then you decrease supervision and you turn people loose to, you know you trust them. And I said but in spite of all that research, we still have organizations that are very tightly controlled and I wonder why that is, which was a serious question for me at the time.

He just looked at time like how dumb can you be mom? Well it’s all about power mom and that’s it. It’s really, we’re, we choose power over productivity and we choose control over effectiveness and that’s what we need to start noticing. And in doing that we also not only disempower people and reduce productivity and create a lot of problems for ourselves but we also as leaders, put ourselves in a position where guaranteed to feel lonely, and we’re guaranteed to be disliked. And—

MARIL MACDONALD:
What a wonderful place to be!

MEG WHEATLEY:
Yes! So even if you were only choosing this to create a more meaningful scenario for yourself as a leader. The leaders who are loved, and people don’t forget them, the leaders who are loved are those who have exhibited unending enduring trust in people and created the conditions for them to contribute.