Where did you learn your most valuable lesson? Was it when being successful or when failing? When did you last really feel empowered by your leader? Leaders in the modern world have a constant dichotomy to deal with: whether to control a situation or to empower people and let nature run its course. If a leader controls a situation it offers their team members little opportunity for learning, to experience ownership or individual potential to be maximised. So allowing nature to take its course can be immensely valuable to the development of teams in an organisation. On the other hand such freedom offers the opportunity for a calamitous failure. Well leaders, get used to it. Life and leadership is like that. That is why leaders get paid more than followers because the scale of the success achieved is dependent upon the scale of risk the leader is able to endure.

Control and you may inhibit genius but remain safe and you may prevent it from ever emerging. The proximity between success and failure is all too evident and today’s leaders must instinctively know when to let go and truly empower their people without letting them succumb to a catastrophic failure! The word catastrophic is used quite deliberately here, because a great leader must demand failure from their teams.  For not too fail is not too try and if you are not trying you will never reach your full potential. However it is that leader’s responsibility to support their teams through such small failures to make sure they are not catastrophic in their effect and that the team can keep on going and keep on failing until they succeed. A leader must also make sure that the team learn from each of the failures whilst not giving up. On the other hand good leaders must also know when to impose control for it is that control that will prevent the catastrophic failure.

It is a leader’s role to facilitate performance through motivation and influence. In so doing a leader affords answers to the question why? It is the manager who will provide the answers to the how and police and drive the performance with metrics and targets. The leader empowers and inspires whilst the manager alleviates disaster and controls. Both are key and both roles may originate from the same individual or they may be roles undertaken by two quite different individuals. If they are being undertaken by two different individuals those individuals need to have an analogous relationship and understand their working relationship and each other instinctively.

You can’t manage exceptional performance you have to lead it and you can’t control innovation and genius you have to inspire them.  But it is in their ability to control and limit the effect of failure, in order to allow valuable lessons to be learned whilst preventing a catastrophe, that a great leader and manager’s value to an organisation are truly felt!

In conclusion leadership is all about situational awareness. It is a leader’s duty to facilitate both empowerment and control but both must be done to match the demands of the circumstances that each leader finds themselves in. A great leader will empower far more than they control!

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