Having coached numerous leaders across industries, especially those at a senior level, I have come to recognise how mastering this one skill can catapult people to higher levels of leadership—the ability to let go.
What does it mean to let go?
It is different things in different situations. It is about liberating yourself of whatever that is not serving you in achieving your goals. It could be fears, beliefs, judgments, thought processes, or feelings. Often even when the leaders realise that they need to let go, they don’t know how to. How one unshackles themselves is for another article. Identifying what needs to be released is the first and a big step in itself.
Letting go may seem surprising as a leadership skill, but if you scratch below the surface of everyday responsibilities leaders have, you will find that to accomplish those effectively, they have to learn to unbind. We will delve into what that may be in different cases. Let us first consider the typical responsibilities of leaders. They have to be good at delegation, at giving feedback, taking risks, making quick and right decisions, and conflict resolution, among other things.
How can letting-go help with each of these?
To be considered a master at delegation, leaders have to learn to let go of control. They also have to release the fear of things falling apart when they are not involved in all aspects of the project or job. Trusting their team to take over and also believe in themselves to be able to course-correct if things did go wrong is what is needed. It is only possible if they consciously recognise the fear and control they have to uncork. They cannot, however, do away with the responsibility of the task. The skill lies in the discernment of knowing what to let go and what not to.
I have come across so many leaders that hesitate in providing negative feedback. The fear of not being liked or the discomfort of hurting their team members feelings or worrying about the backlash or consequences of a disgruntled employee are the reasons that make it awkward. Having clarity on the broader wellbeing of the person and the team can help you let go of this discomfort or fear.
Making quick and effective decisions
Procrastination, rash decisions, or being overwhelmed by choices are some things that leaders often struggle with. The fear of failure or sometimes even the fear of success can hold people back. This same fear also tends to keep them in their comfort zones and prevents risk taking. The ability to take risks is mandatory for innovation and disruptive growth.
One of my clients would freeze in high-pressure design meetings. He knew it was his responsibility to stand up for his team in these discussions when things were going wayward—but he just could not. He realised he had to let go that unpleasant feeling of dealing with conflict and voice his opinions confidently in front of others.
To be a good leader and to manage your team members well, it is crucial to be empathetic and be an excellent listener. Only then can you truly understand what inspires and motivates each individual. However, there is no point in being empathetic if you are judgemental. Letting go of judgments and biases is essential to manage and influence your team well.
By the time people have reached a certain level of seniority in their careers on the basis of their experiences and hard work, many tend to have set ideas on what is needed to succeed or how to approach specific problems or projects. However, humbling yourself and being open to newer ways of doing things even if those ideas come from the junior-most employees is authentic leadership. Sometimes, you have to be willing to disregard your experience and maintain the curiosity of a fresh inexperienced perspective. This openness to new ideas is what leads to innovation along with the risk taking.
There are innumerable instances where a leader needs to let go. The sooner you start paying attention to it the better you start getting at it.
Views are personal.
The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book - Team Decision Making.