Tag Archives: control

The Bomb: A True Story about Leadership, Trust, and Control

stressed studentThere was a bomb threat at a small private school recently.  The head of school received the threat on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday.  She immediately alerted law enforcement and gathered the appropriate group of leaders at the school and then contacted the parents to let them know school was cancelled on Wednesday (out of “an abundance of caution”) while they dealt with the threat.  The local police and FBI swept the school with bomb-sniffing dogs multiple times and even had a helicopter fly overhead to inspect rooftops.  They identified the perpetrator and made sure the school was safe (and swept again) before reopening school on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, the head of school held a special assembly for parents and explained what had transpired in as much detail as law enforcement officials would allow her to.  She then opened the floor to questions—and that’s when the real explosions occurred.  Parents criticized her actions and motivations.  They thunderously applauded each other’s accusations and tried to derail the meeting with emotionally charged diatribes.  I will stop here to tell you why I am recounting this story.

This is a story about leadership. 

No matter how much the head of school did right and how high she prioritized the safety of the children and how much she communicated with the parents, it wasn’t enough.  Nobody said, “Wow, that must have been a tough situation for you and you handled it well.”  Instead, they focused on themselves, raising one complaint after another about how little they were involved in the situation.

This is a story about trust. 

While the school leaders were managing the situation on Tuesday night, one parent called the local TV station to send reporters in to spy on what was going on and broadcast it for everyone to see.  This raised the question: why was there so little trust?  Was it the leader who was not trustworthy or was it the parents who weren’t able to trust?  I think it was the latter.

This is a story about control. 

People who have a high need for control aren’t able to trust others.  Our society currently encourages people to have a high need for control by drawing attention to everything we don’t control, like natural disasters, terrorism, and aging.  We run around in such a panic that we crave control and many of us end up trying to control things we can’t, like our children, their teachers, and even their bosses.

It’s time to loosen the grip.  Yes, it would have been a tragedy if a bomb had detonated at the school and hurt children, but it didn’t, and it couldn’t have because they closed the school.  They got police, FBI, dogs, and helicopters to ensure the safety of the school.  They did a good job.  It’s time we get hold of ourselves and learn to let go and trust others.  We can’t control everything, and we can’t control most things.  But we can control ourselves.  And we need to, if not for our own well-being, for everyone else’s sake.

Look at what the anxiety caused in this situation.  On Thursday, by total coincidence, someone inadvertently set off the fire alarm at the school.  The children were so stressed out they ran around and screamed and hid under desks.  Why do you think they were so stressed out?  Because the parents were out of control.

Anxiety is rampant right now among children and adults in our society.  According to the New York Times Magazine, hospitalization for teen suicide has doubled in the past ten years and so has the number of college freshmen who feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.

The Millennial generation of adults has the highest level of anxiety of any generation to date.  In fact, approximately one in five Millennials report experiencing depression, compared to 16 percent of Generation X employees and 16 percent of baby boomers, according to Bloomberg BNA.  This is no laughing matter.  Anxiety and depression wreak havoc on health and can lead to drug use and suicide.

We as leaders, parents, and adults need to take a deep breath, learn to trust, and role model composure for the people of the next generation.  The stakes are too high not to.

 

Give the Gift of Independence

gift boxIt’s a simple gift, but it’s one leaders often overlook. There’s so much pressure to perform these days that it’s tempting to keep our employees on a tight leash. But, in doing so, we disempower them and cripple their growth. Although it may be a winning strategy in the short-term, it is doomed to fail as we count on the capability of our protégés over the long-term.

 Why don’t leaders give employees independence?

 It’s scary.

“What if something bad happens?” Yes, that is always the risk, but it’s always a risk no matter how closely you supervise your employees. The downside of over supervising your employees is that they won’t learn how to take care of things when something bad does happen. And even if they could, they wouldn’t have the power to. When you’re home sick, can your employees get things done without you?

To let go, you have to face your fears, says Elizabeth Grace Saunders in How Office Control Freaks Can Learn to Let Go, in Harvard Business Review. Maybe it won’t be done exactly the way you would do it and maybe you won’t even know exactly how it’s done. But if you hire good people and train them, you can trust them to do good work.

We can also mitigate risk by giving appropriate levels of responsibility for the experience and character of the employee. For example, we wouldn’t want to give a new graduate a $10 million project to run, but we could give them responsibility for a piece of it, like researching what the competition is doing.

It’s hard.

“I don’t have time.” It’s often quicker to do it ourselves, but that is only a short-term strategy. Not having time to delegate is a classic excuse and it’s one that causes managers to work excessively long hours unnecessarily. Amy Gallo suggests looking into the reasons you’re not delegating in her article on how to delegate in Harvard Business Review. Are you working long hours and feeling indispensable?

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

When you keep doing it yourself, you’re wasting your time and your employees’ time. When you empower your employees to get things done without you everybody wins.

It’s painful.

“It feels good to be needed.” Yes, we all like to feel needed—by our kids, our jobs, our community and so on. But at some point you have to let go. It’s the right thing to do. When you continue to put your own needs ahead of everyone else’s, you’re risking greater pain than the pain of letting go. When you hold on too long, people resent you and the greater family/organization/community suffers. Suck it up, be a good role model, and develop your people to manage without you when the time is right.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”  ― Ann Landers

Empower your people. It’s the right thing to do for you, for your employees, and, most of all, for your organization.

Photo courtesy of Master isolated images from freedigitalphotos.net

Breaking Away: Is the College Transition Harder for Parents or Students?

waving goodbyeBy Joanie Connell

College is a transition period between living at home and living independently. At college, emerging adults tend to still be dependent on their parents financially, but the idea is for them to start to figure out how to live on their own. They have to manage their schedules, get to and from classes, eat either in the dining facilities or prepare meals on their own, and figure out how to navigate life without their parents at hand.

Millennials have been preparing their college applications (or their parents have been) since they were toddlers. They are more educated, coached, tutored, and accomplished than any previous generation. You would think that would make them even better prepared for college, but that is not necessarily so. Their over preparedness is missing a key ingredient: independence. Continue reading Breaking Away: Is the College Transition Harder for Parents or Students?