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Letting Go as the CEO

October 28, 2010 By:
Karen Friedman, JE Feature
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 When my 19-year-old son, who attends college in another state, called to ask if he could take his car to school, I immediately said no.

He asked why. After I danced around the explanation with no legitimate reason, he reminded me that when I was 19, I had a car at school. Well, times were different then, I told myself. The truth is that he's a responsible dean's list student, and I didn't have a reason other than he's still my baby and I worry when he drives.

While I am not one of those overprotective helicopter parents, I am a confessed worry wart when it comes to my kids. Like parents everywhere, I want to protect them from harm, but have come to realize that if I pump the brakes too often, I might send wrong messages about trust, independence and responsibility -- character traits I so greatly admire in both of my boys.

It's not that different in the workplace when bosses and managers fail to let go and turn the wheel over to others, which may send silent signals that they're not confident in someone's ability to get the job done. But like children who are protected from falling and scraping young knees, employees who are robbed of responsibility may be prevented from growing into greatness and learning how to empower others.

Communication Is Key
Leading means communicating forward. Advancing your own agenda requires open, honest and frequent communication to empower others to succeed.

Years ago, we helped a big-time New York agency with a sensitive and controversial issue. As I prepared a spokesperson for an onslaught of anticipated hostile questions, the public-relations person scolded me, saying those questions were off-limits.

That's like diving into a swimming pool and hoping you won't get wet. It may seem easier not to communicate uncomfortable details, but what you don't say can often be more harmful than what you do say.

Communicating in changing or difficult times does not come easy to most. As parents, it's sometimes difficult to accept that as your children get older, you lose control of their day-to-day lives and actions. While leaders can't always control what happens, they can foster understanding, shape perceptions and influence outcomes through communication.

It starts with encouraging two-way conversations at all levels.

· Top down. The front office may make decisions, but it's important not to leave middle management and other communicators out of the loop. These people can deliver your message and control rumors if they are kept informed.

· Hear it from you. Talk to people, not about them. If you have a problem with someone or want them to do something differently, let them hear from you to avoid second-guessing and misinterpretation.

· Be direct. Provide feedback that is specific so people understand your expectations, what they need to work on, what tasks you want them to tackle.

· Face to face. It's easier to dash off an e-mail than pick up the phone or walk down the hall, but when times are tough or you have to deliver unpleasant news, nothing replaces face-to-face contact.

· Easy does it. Put systems in place to foster open communication where people are not embarrassed to ask questions, seek feedback and create dialogue.

· Teach, don't tell. Think about mentors you've had in your life. They lead by showing and helping, not by intimidation.

How your message is received can directly affect how your vision and direction is embraced. That's why it's so important to speak from your heart.

When we blend our smart self with our human self, we can infect the workplace with passion, energy, excitement and respect.

I finally agreed to let my son take his car to school, but only after I shared my concerns. While I felt his smile through the phone, I knew he didn't fully appreciate what the fuss was about.

But he recognized that Mom was slowly letting go when she turned over the keys.

Karen Friedman is a professional communications coach www. karenfriedman.com. A former award-winning Philadelphia TV reporter, she authored Shut Up and Say Something.

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