When it comes to leadership, we fool ourselves into thinking we have control. The truth is, when it comes to people, control in any context is an illusion. Unless that person is bound up in chains and has no free will to resist, control is not actually within our grasp. Think about this for a moment: While I may give the tools to my team to accomplish goals, it is ultimately up to each of them to act of their own free will in accordance with the needs of the mission. For example, to prepare for a party I need balloons inflated; so I hand out balloons. However, it is up to each person to choose to take a deep breath and inflate a balloon. Simplistic example but true. Even in the military it is still up to the free will of each person to execute the orders he or she is given. While I may have worked with my division on which areas of the ship to paint, they were the ones who got it done.
So where does the control exist in leadership? I submit it still exists with the leader but not in a direct manner. Let’s go back to the idea of blowing up balloons – I cannot force people to take a deep breath and blow up a balloon. I cannot hold their mouths open and shove air into their lungs. Yet if I demonstrate there is a need, and that I am willing to do the same task as everyone else and that by accomplishing the task there is a greater good, I can influence the free will of others so they may want to blow up a balloon. Therein lies the key – the team members want to act and therefore choose to act. Maybe “want” is not the right word, because we may not want to do the things we need to do in every situation. Yet, we will use our free will to do what is expected of us.
As leaders we create the influence necessary to affect other’s free will by showing strength, courage, compassion, knowledge and calm. I believe most people want to do well. What they need is a guide to get on the right path. It is the leader who becomes that guide so that each individual knows what he or she needs to do. In that regard, the leader is in control but not really. We each control ourselves, but through our leaders we choose our actions.
CEO, The Professional Development Team