Control Issues & Straw-House Thinking

December 20, 2007 — Leave a comment

Fellow blogger, Tony Morgan, posted a great story on his blog last week. As someone who hates being micro-managed, but fights those tendencies in myself I needed to read this.

Here you go:

Once upon a time in a far off land there lived a leader who supervised three little pigs. The leader was committed to excellence in his life and in his organization. He knew there was a direct correlation between the quality of the houses his pigs built and the success they had in protecting themselves from big, bad wolves.

The leader obsessed about every detail. He also made it clear to his team of pigs that they, too, needed to obsess about every detail. It didn’t take long for the pigs to realize that their interpretation of excellence might not be the same as their supervisor’s perception of excellence. Because of that, the pigs began to bring every decision about every detail to the leader. The pigs didn’t want to run the risk that they might not “get it right.”

Over time, the leader found himself in a challenging predicament.

He was overwhelmed because he had to touch everything. And, he was frustrated that he was responsible for generating every new idea. For example, he was the one who originally developed the design for straw houses. His pigs built excellent straw houses. In fact, no one built straw houses any better. What they did, they did well. But, they were stuck.

“If you try to control things, that’s self-limiting,” said Michael Dell, chief executive officer of Dell. “The easiest way to think about this is that if all the decisions inside an organization had to roll up to the center of the company or to one person, it’s a massive bottleneck to progress.” (Check out the rest of the interview.)

In the end, the leader in this story learned that sometimes values collide. His commitment to excellence wasn’t the problem. Control was the problem. His obsession with getting it right became a roadblock to progress. He discovered the need to empower his team with broad responsibilities to fulfill the organization’s mission while still holding them accountable to the overall vision and values. He needed to let the pigs take risks…and sometimes fail.

Our leader was very savvy. He identified the potential threat of a menacing wolf. Instead of telling the pigs the exact dimensions of the house they needed to build and the materials they needed to use, he learned that a smart leader empowers his little pigs to prepare for the next blowhard that knocks on their door. In the end, that gives the pigs the freedom to design a strategy that the leader may never have considered. That’s where innovation and creativity are birthed.

That leader is me. It happened, again, yesterday. I jumped to “the answer” without giving my team the opportunity to discover a brand new solution. The moral of this story is this: If all I’ve known is straw houses and I control every detail of their construction, then my leadership will never generate brick house ideas.


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