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[Case Study] How one command & control leader… learned to “let go” without losing control



Due to the personal nature of this case study, the company and names have been removed.

The owners of a Stage 4 manufacturing company were facing mounting complexity.  Not unusual for a growing family-owned, second generation company.

What was unusual was that because of a sudden divorce, it was a Mother and Son running the company after the Father abruptly exited.

The Son had grown up in the business and as GM knew every aspect from mailing to bids.  The Mother, as the interim CEO and new to the company, was looking to her son to be the leader she knew the company needed.

Unfortunately as the company passed from expanded, neither the Father nor the Son had learned to effectively delegate.

This is the most difficult stage for companies to transition through because the Leaders have to change from Dominant to Facilitative.

They have to learn to trust, develop others to perform to their standards, and not fall back into their default of controlling everything.

When the leadership team did try to put some solutions together thinking they were doing the right thing – the GM would step in and take over.  He was task oriented vs. people oriented.  A technician (and a damn good one!), not a manager.  He had no patience for people making mistakes that he saw as common sense.

These were the feelings he expressed:

  • “If I have to tell somebody what they are supposed to be doing – I might as well do it myself.”
  • “I can do it quicker, with fewer mistakes.”
  • “If they would just do what I hired them to do.  What is so hard about that?  I pay them good money.”

Once we engaged with the company and led the Leadership Team through the Growth Curve X-ray, the GM learned the challenges of being Commanding in Stage 4 – when he needs to be Coaching.  When we started the work, he didn’t understand the coaching philosophy of “asking questions until the answers come to light.”

First thing we did was had him NOT LEAD the team meetings on Monday mornings.  As hard as that was, the more he sat back and allowed his staff to lead, the better they did.

The second thing we practiced was having employees come to him with a problem and have him NOT SOLVE IT for them.  We encouraged him to take on the coaching role by asking them:

What would you do?  How would you handle it?

And as long as it didn’t harm a Customer, a Contract or the Culture of the company (the 3 C’s) then he was to let them have free reign.

Lastly, in conjunction with our work with the GM, we worked with the employees.

Although they had stopped bringing solutions to the table because they had shut down before, we raised their confidence and their willingness to approach the GM.  We reminded them that they were responsible for bringing solutions.

Though it wasn’t immediate, the GM’s commanding style started to change.  He called 6 months later excited that he finally understood the value of not needing all the answers.

“They are taking ownership.  It’s not how I would do it.  But as long as they are not screwing things up like the 3 C’s, I’ve been letting them implement their ideas.”

Unfortunately, during the process, we lost two really good employees because they were tired of the dictatorial environment and didn’t believe it could really change. “I pushed them too hard.  I could have listened to them better.  They were good employees.”

The remaining employees on the team were feeling much more comfortable and confident with the GM’s leadership and looked forward to what they would be able to create going forward.

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