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Why Letting It Go Is The Leadership Trend Of The Future

This one will be tough for control freaks and perfectionists: Letting go of the past and looking ahead is the only way to move forward.

Why Letting It Go Is The Leadership Trend Of The Future
[Photo: Flickr user Jamie Neely]

Who would have thought that modern leadership could be summed up in the title of a very popular Disney song?

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Yet the biggest, most inspiring trend I see coming down the track over the next year is the need to let it go–to let go of control, let go of permanence, and let go of the past.

Letting Go Of Control

As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

The frequency with which comments such as Eisenhower’s are quoted in management articles shows the enduring appeal of their sentiment. At its heart is the idea that leadership isn’t about making other people do things, but making them want to do those things. Equipping them with the tools and leaving them to do the job.

There’s a growing realization among leaders that we habitually get sidetracked into managing the details because we want things to be done exactly how we would do them. But this is wasteful. Far better to let go of our pre-conceived ideas and the desire to control how people work, to let it go and let them do the job well in their own way.

Letting Go Of Permanence

The art of business is increasingly the art of managing change. But even as we’ve moved toward this principle, carrying change methodologies like Toyota’s lean production system into every area of society and the economy, we’ve tried to limit and contain change.

But change just keeps coming faster and faster. Those who really benefit from change don’t just manage it, keeping it contained in its box. They embrace it and all the possibilities it holds. They let go of any attempt to hold back the floodwaters, and instead look for ways to channel them, whether it’s using technological change, encouraging organizational change, or adapting to the psychological changes taking place in the workforce.

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The range of methods for achieving business change is growing. The conversation around it will also grow this year. So let go of the tendency to look for something permanent. Accept that everything can change, even should change, and that channeling those changes is the route to success.

Letting Go Of The Past

It’s only natural to become attached to the people we used to be, the things that we used to do. It’s where nostalgia comes from, a hazy form of memory in which we focus on the good we have lost rather than the bad things we have left behind.

But trying to cling to the past is a waste of effort. Instead, look to the future. Focus on the things you do now that you would like to leave behind. A leader who attempts to re-create their company’s past glory days is doomed to failure, as the world has moved on. One who looks toward a glorious future may achieve some success.

As the economy continues to recover, 2015 will become a year in which we focus on future growth rather than the past slump. So let go of the past, good or bad, and find a better future.

Letting go is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s also a powerful thing to do, and that’s part of what makes the idea so popular. It’s a challenge we’ll see repeated over and over again this year, and one to which leaders will have to rise.

About the author

Mark Lukens is a founding partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm. He has 20-plus years of C-Level experience across multiple sectors including health care, education, government, and talent/human resources.

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