The Most Misunderstood Aspect Of Great Leadership

Mike Myatt, Contributor
I was recently asked what I consider to be the most misunderstood aspect of great leadership; in other words, what makes great leadership great? What immediately came to mind is not only misunderstood, but it also happens to be the most often overlooked element of leadership, and the one which also affords leaders the greatest opportunity for personal, professional, and enterprise growth. If you want to become a better leader in 2013, I suggest you become comfortable with a leadership practice few are – surrender.
Surrender – not for the faint of heart
You’ll rarely encounter the words leadership and surrender used together in complementary fashion. Society has labeled surrender as a sign of leadership weakness, when in fact, it can be among the greatest of leadership strengths. Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging giving in or giving up – I am suggesting you learn the ever so subtle art of letting go.
A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control. Here’s the thing – the purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Surrender allows a leader to get out of their own way and focus on adding value to those whom they serve.

Surrender – control freaks need not apply
If you’re still not convinced the art of leadership is learning the focus point should be on surrender not control, consider this: control restricts potential, limits initiative, and inhibits talent. Surrender fosters collaboration, encourages innovation and enables possibility. Controlling leaders create bottlenecks rather than increase throughput. They signal a lack of trust and confidence, and often come across as insensitive if not arrogant. When you experience weak teams, micro-management, frequent turf wars, high stress, operational strain, and a culture of fear, you are experiencing what control has to offer – not very attractive is it?
Surrender allows the savvy leader to serve where control demands the ego-centric leader be served. Surrender allows leadership to scale and a culture of leadership to be established. Surrender prefers loose collaborative networks over rigid hierarchical structures allowing information to be more readily shared and distributed. Leaders who understand surrender think community, ecosystem, and culture – not org chart. Surrender is what not only allows the dots to be connected, but it’s what allows to dots to be multiplied. Controlling leaders operate in a world of addition and subtraction, while the calculus of a leader who understands surrender is built on exponential multiplication.
I have found those who embrace control are simply attempting to consolidate power, while those who practice surrender are facilitating the distribution of authority. When what you seek is to build into others more than glorifying self you have developed a level of leadership maturity that values surrender over control. Surrender is the mindset which creates the desire for leaders to give credit rather than take it, to prefer hearing over being heard, to dialogue instead of monologue, to have an open mind over a closed mind, to value unlearning as much as learning. Control messages selfishness, while surrender conveys selflessness – which is more important to you?
Surrender – when not to
Keep this in mind – we all surrender, but not all surrender is honorable. Some surrender to their ego, to the wrong priorities, or to other distractive habits. Others surrender to the positive realization they are not the center of the universe – they surrender to something beyond themselves in order to accomplish more for others. Bottom line – what you do or don’t surrender to will define you. Assuming you surrender to the right things, surrender is not a sign of leadership weakness, but is perhaps the ultimate sign of leadership confidence. I’ll leave you with this quote from William Booth: “The greatness of a mans power is the measure of his surrender.”
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One Response to The Most Misunderstood Aspect Of Great Leadership

  1. Chris Manion says:

    Surrender is one of the essential elements of servant leadership, which I espouse among my teams of sales directors in The Pampered Chef here in the states. Control is important in some aspects of building others up and encouraging their leadership development, e.g. how often to communicate, what choices of words to use, the use of “and” in place of “but” to avoid negating important messages; protecting the learning environment from negative influences; rewarding behaviors that foster growth.

    Balancing acceptance; open mindedness; expressions of appreciation; challenges; affirmations; examples of personal growth; mentoring; surrender; coaching with truth laced with diplomacy; and a keen ear for active listening is part of the art of great leadership. In my opinion, every other one listed, included surrender, are often misunderstood as it applies to great leadership.

    Just one example to illustrate. Just as surrender is perceived as weakness, when a leader allows herself to share an example of personal failure or flaw, instead of defying what some view as leadership strength, such an example of personal growth and learning from mistakes can be a catalyst to those who labor under a misguided sense of low self esteem. It buoys them as it dawns upon them that leaders can lead despite their weaknesses, or perhaps because of them.

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