The Hands-Off Manager: When You Let Go, You Actually Take Control

By Steve Chandler and Duane Black

In everyone’s life at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the human spirit. — Albert Schweitzer

Most management activity today is what was alluded to by the Peter Drucker quote at the beginning of this book. Managers make it difficult for their people. They unknowingly kill, or at least diminish, the human spirit by their old-school micro managing and critical judgments.

But there is a new kind of manager emerging in companies today, a manager devoted to rekindling the human spirit by keeping their hands off their employees, and allowing success to happen. We’ll just call that enlightened person the “hands-off manager.”

2 managerial communication styles

Managers have these two primary communication styles from which to choose:

  1. Hands-on: They can criticize, control, threaten, and judge their people.
  2. Hands-off: They can mentor, encourage, coach, and genuinely care about their people.

This choice presents itself many times throughout every day. Every communication with one of your people is going to be a version of this choice.

If you choose judgment (and criticism, implied or otherwise), you will provoke defensiveness and withdrawal — not creativity and productivity.

When we judge our people and find them coming up short, we then start to criticize and micro manage them. In this age of the sensitive, knowledge-based worker, that’s a self-destructive cycle. It engenders nothing but resentment and push-back.

Also, when we judge and then hold a grudge, we are giving our power away. When we resent a team member, we are giving our power to that team member. We are giving that power to the very person we are angry with by allowing him or her to occupy and dominate our thinking. We are focused on the problem and not the solution.

Understanding all you meet

Real power in leadership comes from partnering, not criticizing.

The hands-off manager sets himself apart by retaining all his power. His practice is to understand everyone he meets. To see more in his people than they are seeing and to invite them to that vision.

By doing this, he is reducing his own stress levels at work. He is completely aware that every time he judges someone he alters his own well-being.

So he refuses to assign the responsibility for negative feelings to the person he is tempted to judge. He assigns the responsibility for his low feeling to the thought he is believing about that person.

Only thoughts cause stress; people do not. People cannot. But for the old-school micromanager the stress never quits, and the harmony in the organization never holds.

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If you are micromanaging in the old style of shame and blame, you will recognize this example: You’re coming into the company parking garage and suddenly have to slow down because there’s an old person in front of you going slower than molasses. If you then decide you don’t like older people who drive slow, you start to suffer. And you will suffer every time this “happens” to you.

Letting go — and being in control

Even though it’s not really happening to you, it is being caused by you — the stress comes directly from your thought. The old person has no power to stress you out. You think you are suffering because this oldster is driving poorly, but the truth is you are only suffering because of your judgmental thought about him or her.

We all want to be powerful and in control of our own well-being, but we continually give away the very power we seek by our inability to forgive and let go. The only way out of this trap of constant suffering is to cultivate the open-minded hands-off skills of letting the actions of others roll off our backs, and letting other people’s negativity go in one ear and out the other.

Anything we cannot let go of has control over us. But once we can let go, we’re in control. We can laugh and enjoy how we are unaffected by what other people might be doing.

That’s when you change as a manager.

That’s when people see you as an island in the storm. A person to go to for peaceful resolutions of crises. In other words, a true hands-off manager who gets results from a relaxed, enthused, and highly productive team.

One does not “manage” people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual. —Peter Drucker

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from THE HANDS-OFF MANAGER © 2012 Steve Chandler and Duane Black. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.

Steve Chandler is a best-selling author of 30 books that have been translated into over 25 languages, including 100 Ways to Motivate Others and 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself. Contact him at Duane Black was the executive vice president and chief operating officer of SunCor Developments, where he oversaw 150 employees and more than 150,000 acres of housing developments. He currently runs his own consulting firm in Arizona.


1 Comment on “The Hands-Off Manager: When You Let Go, You Actually Take Control

  1. Thank you for the insightful post about the importance of letting go of control at work.  I write extensively about the harms of excessive control (and to let it go and enjoy the rewards that follow) in vital areas of our lives, including the work place, and I like to say “Losing” control really means “gaining” control.   That frees the “work currents” and allows us to engage them more intuitively and expansively.


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