Are you a control freak leader?

Here’s how to stop ‘sapping’ and start ‘zapping’ your teams …

I’ve had cause these past few weeks to think again about one of the first ever ‘management’ books I read for pleasure. It’s about a world where a manager gets the chance to see things from the ‘12th dimension’ and is able to see and hear the motivating and empowering ‘zapp’ of leadership, and the pop and fizzle that comes when that attempt at leadership actually ‘sapps’ the energy, the motivation and the empowerment from the member of staff. It’s a powerful image of the effects a control freak leader can have.

The book is about knights slaying dragons, about diamond mines and random mechanical objects. It features weird toads with horns and red painted finger nails running around on fire engines putting out the fires created by the ever increasing number of dragons that wander around the office corridors. Unless you are somewhat alternatively minded it may not be the read for you…  but, there are some very powerful messages to be drawn from it.

For example, how familiar is this self-image?

  • Do you mask your controlling tendencies by being overly prescriptive in your ‘instructions’?
  • Do you rush in and take over when your team encounter a difficult problem?
  • Do you believe it’s easier to do that than step back and ’empower them’ to resolve the issues? Or, how often do you respond with ‘oh we tried that before and it didn’t work’ when an employee comes up with an idea to solve a problem, consequently completely taking the wind out of their sails, or, how often do you talk over someone?

How rude, they think and ‘sapp’, you suck a little of their energy away in each of these examples.  There are so many other examples but you get the picture.

I admit I have done it too. Also I have worked for/with people who are masters at this, which is why I go out of my way now to try not to ‘sapp’. How can we do that? Well, for a start we need to recognise when we are doing it – that’s always the first step in self awareness and addressing problems. Then, think about ways in which to respond instead to these commonplace reactions.

I used to often say to a colleague when I was the HR manager in a manufacturing plant that he needed to ‘respond’ to situations he encountered on the shop floor as a supervisor. He would so often rather ‘react’ and address the issue all guns blazing, at 100 miles per hour ‘sapping’ people as he zoomed by (like the toad on the fire engine in the story).

But now you know how to spot a sapper what makes the ‘zapp’ happen? That lightening rod of support, encouragement and empowerment?  Well the book references the following elements:

  • Maintain or enhance self esteem
  • Listen and respond with empathy
  • Share thoughts feelings and rationale
  • Ask or help and encourage
  • Provide support without removing responsibility for action

We need to do this to enable our teams to do things for themselves and free up time for us to do the ‘things’ we are meant to be doing, instead of doing their ‘things’.  For ‘zapp’ to work people need direction, knowledge, skills, resources and support. It’s pretty basic but in the ‘rush rush, busy busy’ of an average work place this is so easily forgotten, over looked or ignored as you ‘don’t have time’.  But consider this – by ‘zapping’ you may actually give yourself more time.

As a leader, we should aspire to ‘lead’ not control (clues in the name right!?). And certainly never over control to the point where you disengage and ‘sapp’ people’s desire to do a good job for you/your organisation. Your role is to spread the ‘zapp’, protect your staff from ‘sappers’, share, coach and give your managers the skills they need to ‘zapp’, you should model ‘zapp’ all the times, and reward performance resulting from ‘zapp’. Easy right?

I get that it’s your department, your career, your future and sometimes your business, and it’s where it is partly through being controlling but my aim is to ask you to check if the level of control you are maintaining continues to be necessary and appropriate?

So are you a ‘zapper’ or a ‘sapper’? Take my Zapp vs Sapp Quiz I will share in my next blog.

The book? It’s called “Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment: How to Improve Productivity, Quality, and Employee Satisfaction,” by William C Byham and Jeff Cox