The art of letting Go

In one of the previous blogs we discussed the transition in the field of management: from so-called “directive” to “facilitating” leadership. Managers are not the people who tell the team what to do, “make it perform” and “get the results.” The starting point is that the team can do that very well itself. Provided a number of conditions are met. For example, there must be clarity about the objectives, the team must be complete and there must be a clear division of tasks. The focus is on every individual coming into his or her own and that there is psychological safety so that the team can develop freely.

What often comes up in discussions about facilitating leadership is that managers should be able, and dare, to “let go”. Does this mean that you are not interfering with anything anymore? That you let everyone have their own way, and see what that leads up to?

That is by no means letting go. But for managers who are used to planning, directing and controlling it may feel like that. Because it’s a habit. And habitual behavior is persistent: even though you believe that working differently is good, it feels uncomfortable, and maybe even scary, because you’re not used to it. Which is why it is a good thing to consider what letting go exactly is in a management context.

To this end, we make a distinction between “desire” and “intention”. They are two states of mind, or attitudes, that are very similar but differ in one important aspect.

With a desire you are attached to the result you want to achieve. That means that you experience positive emotions when that result is achieved and negative emotions when it is not. Compare it to a child who has set his sight on the latest game console for his birthday: the greater the desire, the greater the joy or disappointment when the wish is or is not fulfilled. The intensity of the emotion is directly proportional to the intensity of the desire.

When you are not attached to the result you want, then there is an intention. When you act from intentions, your attitude is open to the results that emerge. You do have a result in mind (the intention), but you are not emotionally affected by the actual result because you are not attached to it. This makes you accept the result as it is. You do not resist the outcome. But that does not mean that you are apathetic or that you will give up. Because you remain open and curious about further possibilities and what to do next – and as a result you create agility and creativity …

In daily management practice, many things are not going as well as planned or budgeted. Viewed from the perspective of desire, they all harbor disappointments.

Disappointment is a form of resistance to reality. People who act from intentions do not have that resistance. They accept the results and will therefore look at them more freely. As a result, they are better able to see how things can further be improved: the lack of desire and resistance automatically means an open mind and a creative attitude: “OK, this is what we have achieved, why and how do we make it better?”

The difference between “directive management” and “letting go” is comparable to this. You put together your team. Obviously there are objectives. You want to go somewhere. And you give the team the autonomy to decide how they are going to achieve that goal and what actions they will to take. If necessary, you give advice. And you coach the team members. But then you “release” them to do the work. And you wait and see what the results of their actions are. With an open mind: your intention on the goal, and accepting what is to come.

The difference between both management styles is a small difference in attitude. There is no difference in ambition level. The attitude of “letting go” ensures that the team can freely do what it does best. It leads to a world of difference in spirit within teams, motivation of those involved and responsiveness of the organization.

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Why do you do the things you do?

Responsive organizations have the ability to change from within. You could call that organic. Change is not managed, but inspired. There are four starting points to realize this. They are about people, their motivations and mutual relationships.

First of all, the people make the difference – not the plans, structures, KPIs or work processes. It is the task of leadership to allow people to come to their own in a safe environment. This is not about directive leadership that tells people what to do, but ‘facilitating leadership’ which is based on autonomy, responsibility and motivation. A third premise is that there is no uniform formula, method or approach for success: every organization finds out for itself what its unique potential is and how it can be realized. And finally, they rely on the belief that people have a tremendous capacity to contribute to change, provided you address their intrinsic motivation.

Golden Circles
In many discussions with clients about their mission and positioning, Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circles” come up. These circles are about the “Why”, “How” and “What” of an organization.

The stronger the “Why” of a company, organization, or person, the stronger its energy and appeal. In his famous Ted Talk, Sinek explains that companies, organizations and people with a strong and clear “Why” achieve more and have a stronger attraction to other people than those who focus primarily on the “What” or “How”. He uses appealing examples from, among others, the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King and computer company Apple.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles

The art of connection
Simon Sinek’s “Why” goes deeper than the mere raison d’être of an organization. For leadership, the art is to connect this with the “Why” of their employees. In other words: their motives for their actions and decisions.

Facilitating leaders act from a strong awareness of their employees and their motivation. They intend to inspire and stimulate them, and get them moving together. In doing so, they create the conditions for positive change. Which works better, and is more fun, than telling people what needs to be achieved and how they must do it.

Good decisions with the wrong motive do not lead to the desired results
Often strategic decisions are taken that seem very good at first sight but are based on the wrong motive.

Example: companies such as Semco or Favi have made a name for themselves with self-managing teams. This led, among other things, to the disappearance of a lot of management at these organizations. Their approach was praised and copied by many other companies. Their argument often was: “We can save costs with this.”

Cost-effectiveness is important, but that was not the motive of the aforementioned organizations. It was the conviction that people in the workplace are perfectly capable of planning, organizing and executing their work. For themselves and together. No manager had to decide on that. That motive was the foundation for successful change in these examples. But when the motive is all about costs, that becomes the focus of change. It will not improve the way the organization performs. On the contrary: changes made with the wrong motive rarely lead to good results.

The litmus test
So the “why” is about the intrinsic motives of organizations just as much as it is about people’s behavior. Try it out when you speak to an applicant again. Or suppliers who pitch for your business: ask people why they do the work they do or why they have made certain decisions. TheIr answer immediately gives a good idea of ​the kind of people you are dealing with. I once had to choose between three research agencies for a global market study. I asked all three contacts why they were doing this work. Two thought for a moment and repeated their sales pitch. It was about “added value”, “insights through research”. All true, but it was not an answer to the question. Besides that, what they told me I already knew from their websites. Their answers made them look similar. And above all: they did not inspire me. On the contrary! The third person replied immediately and from the bottom of her heart, “Theo, that’s very simple. I just love to do research and understand data. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” In this simple answer, the motivation and energy were palpable. I did not have to think long about choosing this party. This resulted in an inspiring collaboration that lasted a long time and provided our company with a lot of “data-driven” insights.

2,600 years ago Buddha already spoke about this. One of the pillars of his teaching is “the right intention” or “the right motive”. People like Simon Sinek make us understand better that this is a universal principle that helps to realize coherence in organizations and achieve great results. Why do you do the things you do?

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