Leadership Restraint

Contrary to popular opinion, a successful business leader does not need to:

  1. Have all the right answers and be the smartest person in the room
  2. Be involved in every matter and make every decision
  3. Overwhelm his or her subordinates with work

Rather, the successful business leader needs to set a clear direction and goals and provide the guidance, support and leadership to help the team follow that direction and realize those goals.

Yet, most leaders are type A workaholics, over-stimulated with ideas, energy and passion, and driven to get everything done now.

Alas, great leadership requires self-control. We need to restrain ourselves and our natural inclinations in order to better develop our team and keep them focused on the critical few goals and objectives.

Leadership is not only about what we do.  It is also about what we do not do.

How should we practice this leadership restraint?

1. We cannot be the one who knows all the answers and makes all the decisions.

Instead, we need to question and listen more. Even if we “know” the answer, it is important to have the team think that it is their idea. That gives them ownership in the decision and helps develop their critical thinking and business skills. Likewise, in our discussions, we need to restrain ourselves from always getting the last word in. In his leadership book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith points out that the desire to know all the answers, to add our two cents in all discussions, and to get the last word in, is caused by our ego and our desire to tell the world how smart we are.

2. We need to be doing less in order to keep the priority on the most important.

To keep our team’s focus on the critical few objectives, we need to be focused on these few objectives. Our priorities and strategies are set by the time and attention what we give to an issue. This may mean that, at times, we may have nothing to do as we wait for the team to complete action items that are well underway. In such cases, we cannot pester our team or find work to do just to prove that we are busy. Perhaps, we should go visit with a customer instead.

3. We need to ignore small, unimportant issues even if they are not perfect.

To keep ourselves and our team focused on the important, we need to avoid distracting them with small (“just this one time?!?”) issues that may be vexing, even annoying, but are not vital. When I visit retail stores and/or plant operations, I usually see all kinds of small items that are not perfect and could be quickly improved with a little time and attention. But, unless they are in line with my 3 – 5 key priorities for that location, I do not even bring these issues up in discussions.

Pope John XXIII offered similar leadership advice:

See everything. Overlook a great deal. Correct a little.

By exercising self-control and practicing this leadership restraint, we will keep our teams focused, empowered and energized to deliver on our goals and objectives.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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