Producing Results Blog

Why The Best Leaders Are Out Of Control

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I recently read an interview with Marija Ringwelsky, the co-founder and COO of Remedy, a company that helps protect people from medical overcharges and billing errors. In it, Ms. Ringwelsky said:

“While I thought leadership was about influence and control, starting Remedy has taught me that leadership is quite the opposite—it’s about finding great people who share common values and a shared sense of purpose and counter-intuitively relinquishing control. If you’ve done your job right, the people on your team will have specialized skills that will help drive things forward better than if everything went through me.”

While I disagree that leadership is not about influence (although I’m guessing that Ms. Ringwelsky was using “influence” more in the sense of “coercion”), I wholeheartedly support her sentiment. Leadership is about “finding great people” with “a shared sense of purpose,” and then relinquishing control.

#Leadership is about finding good people and then relinquishing control. Click To Tweet

But let’s make a distinction here. “Relinquishing control” does not mean “abdicating responsibility.” You, as the leader, still set the course. And you’re still responsible for the results.

I have a little experience with finding great people and relinquishing control. As the Executive Producer of a comedy TV show for 15 years, I worked with some of the best comedy talent in the business (one of whom is now an Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay; another of whom has starred in several TV series including The Soup, Community, and The Great Indoors; and another of whom is Bill Nye the Science Guy).

The only reason my show lasted 15 years (and was number one in its time slot every single week for the last ten of those years) is because I found great people and let them do their thing.

Now, “their thing” did have constraints. Contrary to popular belief, creative people love constraints—as long as they’re allowed to be freely creative within those restraints! Monolog jokes had a certain structure. Sketches tended to be a certain length. The show itself was a half-hour, divided into four segments. Those were my decisions, as the producer. But after that, I relinquished control. My writers could write pretty much anything they wanted to. Once they did that, it was then my responsibility to decide what made it on the air and what didn’t. After all, I was still the one responsible for the results.

Your world really isn’t that much different, is it? As the leader, it’s your job to build a great team. Whether you hire the team or inherit the team, it’s your job to create a context in which they can become great and thrive. And then you set the course. You lay out the goal, the target, the vision. And then (and this is the part so many leaders screw up)—you take your hands off the wheel! You’ve given your team the what; now let them surprise you with the how.

#Leaders—give your team the what; let them surprise you with the how. Click To Tweet

When you do this, you’ll start to see a more engaged team, a more creative team, and a more successful team.

You have your own unique experience that we can all learn from. Please let us know your thoughts and comments below!

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About the Author:

For 15 years, Executive Producer Bill Stainton, CSP led his team to more than 100 Emmy Awards and 10 straight years of #1 ratings. Today Bill helps leaders achieve those kinds of results--in THEIR world and with THEIR teams.
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