Believe it or not, this was a “thing.”
If your indoctrination about what it means to be a leader or a manager was anything remotely like mine, it’s possible that you have some notion of “needing to control others” wrapped into your self-concept.
My memory might be a little bit foggy, but I think I remember the old definition of leadership at West Point in the late 80’s being something along the lines of “getting people to do what they don’t want to do.”
At the Billions Institute we come at things from a different point of view. Our Model for Unleashing (orchestrating the loss of control of thousands of people moving in the desired direction) doesn’t ask “how can I get these people to do what I want them to do?” Rather, we start with, “how can I help all these people doing what they want to do?”
Easier said than done, but if you, like me, have a daily wrestling match with your inner control-freak, here’s one short story I offer for your consideration.
I am dating myself with this example, but back in the 1970s there was a fabulous commercial on one of the four TV stations (I’m talking before remote controls here, people) in which happy hippies picked packs of Juicy Fruit gum off a massive tree of seemingly endless packs of Juicy Fruit Gum. Think I’m making this up? See for yourself. I mean, if only there were trees like this, right? Who’d leave their yard?
So five or six year old Becky decided, “I’m gonna grow me one of those trees.” I didn’t have a pack of Juicy Fruit, but I did have one cardboard textured piece of pink Bazooka Joe bubble gum. I dug a hole in my back yard, planted the piece of Bazooka Joe gum, covered it up with some dirt, and diligently watered it every single day, trusting in my soul that soon a bubble gum tree would emerge!
Well…a few days passed and my patience couldn’t stand it anymore. So, I dug up the gum. Then I ate it. Yup. I ate the gum. That had been buried in the yard.
So what help is that story for you and your inner control-freak?
What do you think would have happened if I had asked my parents permission to plant a Juicy Fruit tree in the back yard and they said, “Heck no, weirdo kid. That’s the most foolish thing we’ve ever heard! It’ll never work. It will be a waste of precious resources. Here’s what you need to do instead….[lecture, lecture, lecture, word, word, word, insert helicopter parenting technique here].
Probably for a couple months I would have thought with resentment, “I betcha it would have worked. Adults don’t know anything!” Or I would have secretly done it anyway. Or I would have lost my curiosity or willingness to try things on my own and sat around like a cow waiting for instructions on age-appropriate activities.
Here’s the thing. Adults are just grown-up kids. And tapping into our curiosity and our willingness to try new things are absolutely essential building blocks for doing anything that makes any difference at all in the world. So I think the name of the game is to nurture and encourage curiosity and willingness to try new things whenever possible.
Obviously you don’t want your team to become a complete free-for-all, olly-olly-all-oxen-free utterly lacking in discipline gaggle of folks. The key to unleashing curiosity and agency while not completely losing control is three things:
- Aims – how much, by when?
- Measures – how will we know as we go?
- Small, rapid-cycle tests.
I want to grow Juicy Fruit tree (aims). I will know I have one if anything remotely resembling a Juicy Fruit tree starts to grow where I planted my gum (measures). If it doesn’t work, I’ll eat the gum. (small test).
No harm, No foul. Lots of learning.
I think the ideal time frame for small tests is a week or two. I look for opportunities in team meetings to say, “You should totally try that! Do you think you could report back to us on what you learned in a week or two?” Even if they’re going down the grown-up version of the Juicy Fruit tree failure, I know that’s ok because we’ll only lose a week, but we’ll gain their growing curiosity and sense of agency. And who knows – there’s just as good a chance they’ll discover something brilliant and game-changing.
We are currently accepting applications for our January 8th – 11th, 2019 Skid Row School. October 2018 is completely sold out but please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be put on the wait list.
We also have one remaining spot for an alumni who wants to join our two-year fellowship this September 25th – 27th, and two spots for leaders who’d want to start Feb 5th – 7th, 2019. More info and an application here.