Monday, April 21, 2014

Your Leader Is In Control

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I do a fair amount of reading on leadership issues. And in doing so, I encounter the following sentiment--most recently in this Corner Office column--again and again.

I have learned that leadership is all about demonstrating and exuding confidence. One of my former bosses used to say: “There will always be uncertainty in your life, doubts about yourself, about the decision you’re about to make. Keep it inside. Process it. But don’t let it show on your face. You need to come out with a confident but simple description of the problem and tell people a simple three-step process for how we’re going to get out of the problem. Because they need to know that the leader is in control.”

Let's deconstruct. In my opinion, things start out well, but they quickly go downhill.

I agree that demonstrating and exuding confidence is an essential part of effective leadership. I'm not sure I would say that leadership is "all about" it, but I agree that it's hard to lead people if you aren't confident about the decisions you're making.

And I obviously agree that there will always be uncertainty in life, and that leaders will likely always have doubts about themselves and the decisions they are making. Generally, it makes sense to keep the bulk of that angst inside, but hiding it entirely from the people you lead may not be the best idea. If you're interested in developing the leadership skills of the people under you, shouldn't you be sharing part of your thought process with them? In other words, talk with them about the things that could go wrong and about how likely they are and what can be done to mitigate against them? That's not keeping the uncertainty inside.

And coming out with a simple description of the problem and a simple three-step process for how we're going to get out of it? That may be a tool you want in your leadership toolbox to be used in certain circumstances. But positioning it as some kind of cure-all for every situation? I think that's a bit extreme, especially when capped off with the excerpt's parting thought: "They need to know that the leader is in control."

In control? Control of what, exactly? Control of themselves--yes. Control of their decisions and the actions that flow from them--yes. But control of their environment and the forces that shape it? Do you really want your people to think that you're in control of that? I'm your leader, and I have a solution for every problem you will face. Can't you tell that by how confident my voice is?

This is the thing I encounter again and again. Followers must always know that their leader is in control. Every time I read that I ask myself why. Why do people need to know that their leader is in control? And what would happen if they would discover that he isn't?

Because guess what? He isn't. The leader isn't in control any more than you are. The good ones control themselves and their actions, but no leader controls the environment around them. If they appear to, they're either faking or deluding themselves, and in my book, neither one of those correlates with effective leadership.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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