Win Today with Christopher Cook

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In Charge or In Control? Which Leader are You?

I’m sure most of us have experience working with great leaders as well as very difficult leaders at some point in time. I believe that organizational leaders and managers have the responsibility to not only facilitate output (sales, increased revenue, outreach goals, volunteer engagement), but also have the privilege of creating momentum within their team or organization by engaging and empowering up-and-coming leaders around them. A key catalyst for growth and momentum is the manner in which a leader thinks, communicates, and responds (both verbally and non-verbally) within their role. These factors contribute to an individual’s ability be “in charge” (overseers, visionaries) without being “in control” (rigid, controlling, micromanaging) in their style of leadership. Allow me to illustrate.

It was an early Sunday morning in September, and I was sitting in the airport awaiting my flight to Nashville. Not unlike any other airport excursion, upon reaching my gate, I immediately searched for the nearest power outlet where I could plug in my iPad and sit comfortably while waiting to board the aircraft. Unfortunately, the gate area was very crowded, so I nestled in between a group of businessmen, trying to make the best of the situation.

Before I could get my headphones on, I caught myself listening in on one man’s very boisterous conversation with a colleague seated to his right. He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t even yelling. He was, however, very definitive, very quick to respond without listening, very sure about his perspective, and to be honest, very condescending in his tone of voice. Quickly glancing in his direction, I noticed his colleague’s countenance dripping with humiliation. Without much more interest than observing his awkward means of communication, I filed the experience away in my mind. It wasn’t five minutes later that I overheard another man’s conversation with a team member who was seated directly across from him. The subject matter of their conversation was ironically similar to the one I had just witnessed.

The tone of this conversation was strikingly different, however. Though the man was obviously in management, he wasn’t rushed with his comments at all. He listened patiently, and in almost choreographed form, responded in way that appeared to really connect with the associate. His non-verbal cues complemented his words with sincerity and passion. After a few minutes, he smiled and the conversation ended.

Observing the second conversation confirmed something for me: not all managers are leaders, and to be a great leader, you don’t necessarily have to be in management. It’s my conviction that true leadership is defined by the ability to influence, train, and add value to others through strategically communicating vision and by creating an environment and growth track in which team members flourish. I believe that people are an organization’s greatest asset, and as such, must be empowered and positioned to best serve the organization’s goals.

Two different people. Two similar situations. Two very different approaches.

Once we were in flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about the contrast in communication between the men. The morning’s event led me to recall my own experience working with people, coaching managers in organizations, and training team leaders in volunteer groups. Almost immediately, I made a connection between the sum of my past experiences and the airport scene: one leader was confident that being “in charge” afforded him the opportunity to add value to his associate, while the other was adamant about being “in control” and exerting his authority at any cost.

From my experience, here are eight qualities common to the “in charge” leader and the “in control” leader.

The “in charge” leader…

  • Is a macro manager. He/she creates a culture of trust where team members are empowered to be productive without being overly scrutinized.
  • Is empowering. The team is equipped to be contributors to the overall vision of the organization.
  • Practices discrete, professional communication, both verbally and non-verbally.
  • Is motivated to create a thriving, healthy team culture (one that gives and receives feedback well) within the organization.
  • Is a seeker of truth and is open-minded.
  • Is flexible and creates an environment where research & development and learning & growing is celebrated.
  • Listens first. Thinks next. Speaks last.
  • Avoids “strong arm” talk, which undermines healthy relational communication/boundaries.

The “in control” leader…

  • Is a micro manager. He/she is perceived as one who constantly looks over the shoulders of the team members. He/she is often overly critical, demeaning, and controlling.
  • Is disempowering. Team members become order-takers, “yes men,” and doers instead of valuable contributors to a vision.
  • Uses controlling communication, both verbally and nonverbally, to assert his/her authority.
  • Is motivated by a political atmosphere, where polling and rallying others creates unwarranted leverage for the leader’s perspective, opinion, or directive to be made known and carry weight.
  • Is most concerned about being “right” and consequently is narrow-minded.
  • Is rigid (things have to be a certain way) and creates an environment where team members “walk on egg shells” for fear of humiliation or punishment.
  • Partially listens and is quick to give his/her opinion without the regard of others.
  • Uses “strong arm” talk in his/her communication.

If you have worked with a difficult “in control” leader, rest assured that some of the greatest takeaway lessons you’ve learned in your own development as a leader came from your interaction with that individual.

Question: What has your experience been with either type of leader?

Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

  • jennifer

    Well written!! I’ve had experience with both. An in charge leader definitely makes the workplace a better place to be. My current supervisor is an in charge leader 🙂

    • Thanks, Jennifer! I agree. A great leader creates a great work culture which creates great output.

  • Rocky

    Awesome Chris . . . nailed it very succinctly! What’s amazing to me is how well this also relates to christian church leadership and many denominational perspectives of the ‘heavenly Father’.

    • Thanks so much, Rocky! I agree with you. These types of leadership aren’t centric to the environment, they’re centric to the person. Thanks for your great input.

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