I attended a workshop today hosted by The GKC Group on Executive Presence. Toward the end of the session, I asked one of the Executive Panelists John Drain, CFO at Hearst Television, “What behaviors do you see in emerging leaders that might cause them to derail their careers?”

Here is a summary (my notes) on what John shared with the group:

  • People who have control issues. That is, they always have to be in control.
  • They feel that if they are not always in control, they are going to fail.
  • There is usually something behind this behavior, a fear of failure, low self-esteem, etc.
  • This not only affects them, but their entire team.
  • Some people can be coached to let go, but there are some who cannot and always have to be in control.
  • Those who cannot, put everything on their back and will eventually burnout or implode.
  • At the same time, they are not developing their team. Sooner or later, their best employees will leave to seek out opportunities to grow and develop elsewhere.
  • As a leader, one of your core values must include helping others succeed.
  • You cannot do this if you always have to be in control.
  • You have to learn to let go.

His advice reminded me of a post I wrote years ago for another blog. It is from a conversation film director Kevin Smith had off the cuff with his friend Jason Mewes on his podcast:

I could never understand when I was younger and listening to older directors, how much control they gave up. When I was a young director, I used to force actors to do what I wanted them to do. Now that I’m older, I get it. You get more by letting go. If you put somebody in charge of their own performance, they are ultimately going to give you their best. The best thing to do to create an environment for very talented people is to let them do what they do best and take a step back and don’t interfere; maybe stepping in every once in a while to help shape or tweak something. I know how to get the best out of people and what they do and that is my job. That is what I’m good at.

I shared this quote during a breakout session we had shortly after the executive panel convened and got a few head nods.  For me, it is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my career. I fail at it everyday. But every once in a while, I succeed.  When I do, I get to see my team grow.  There is no other greater reward as a leader.