Ranjay Gulati is a Harvard Business School professor, a consultant, and a parent of two children. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, he contends that the challenges parents face at work and home are not that different, and that “both contexts leave leaders struggling between their desire to control others and their need to let go.” Strong leadership is about threading that needle.
Research psychologist Diana Baumrind observed that parents often behave in ways that are either authoritarian (exerting too much control), permissive (giving children too much autonomy), or negligent. An option better suited to parenting (and to managing, says Gulati) is the authoritative approach, which strikes a middle ground between control and autonomy.
To become a more authoritative leader, Gulati suggests taking two basic steps. First, communicate a clear, durable framework of guidelines consisting of both positive ("thou shalt") and negative ("thou shalt not") statements. Second, reinforce the framework and hold people accountable.
As Gulati’s research with innovative organizations has shown, allowing employees to exercise autonomy within clear guardrails can yield favorable results. Citing companies with such approaches, such as Netflix and Alaska Airlines, the author notes that, “maintaining the tension between control and autonomy isn't easy, and you might find yourself veering too far at times in one direction or the other. But with a solid, well-articulated framework in place, you'll be able to correct for excesses and stay more or less in the middle zone over time. At home and at work, a blend of control and autonomy is usually the winning formula.”
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