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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

Leadership-Coaching: Do you have every(one)thing under control?

Also known as proactivity or initiative: the ability to work autonomously is desirable, if not required, in most jobs. Nevertheless, many managers are indecisive – when do I let my employees decide, plan and think, and when do I interfere? Having control over processes is often necessary and usually tempting…but it can also lead to procrastination and paralyzing stagnation in the team.

Unbidden advice, or do you prefer the ostrich technique?

Who does not know this situation? You watch an employee at work and hardly bear it – because he does it quite differently than you would have done it. As a manager, you are responsible for the process, or at least for the outcome. And as a smart manager, you also know that you have to let matters run their course first. You suspect that unbidden advice can unsettle employees and be shameful. But to bust one’s head in the sand, in the restless hope that everything will turn out well in the end, does not seem to be the method of choice and is ultimately nothing more than a cautiously camouflaged “ostrich” technique that avoids responsibility.

So what to do?

Many managers come into coaching with the question of how they can accompany their employees well and how much freedom in leadership is good. In modern companies with flat hierarchies, word has got around that an authoritarian and restrictive attitude towards employees is not necessarily conducive to creative and initiative processes. Employees with strong ideas, who identify with the company, are in demand, they can unfold in a climate in which they experience themselves as self-effective and autonomous. And yet processes must also converge in teams and be formed in the interests of the company.

A closer look

Let us take a closer look at the critical moment described above: An employee assumes responsibility and works independently to solve a problem. However, he chooses a path that you as a manager find tricky and more or less questionable. What exactly happens in you then?

You probably experience an inner conflict, triggered by the moment with your employee. It is the conflict between the desire to trust him and give him control over the project and the desire to have the reins in your own hands.

If at such a moment you manage to pause and feel this conflict and not push it aside through hectic action, then you can learn a lot about yourself. And in the end, you may be able to differentiate more finely whether your employee’s suggestion is actually counterproductive or simply different from how you would have solved the problem. In order to differentiate, you have to explore yourself a little.

Do you bear differentness?

How easy is it for you to tolerate that others do not work as you do? Are you able to put yourself aside, or beyond that, to allow yourself to be influenced and shaped by others? To put it a little more to the point, one could say that it is the question of your narcissism and the question of how great your fears are to give up control and let someone else into your life with his differentness, without his differentness questioning or even offending you. Only when you have this part of yourself in mind, or rather in your intuition, is it possible to distinguish when it is good to intervene and when you do well to leave others to their creative flow.

What about your ability to triangulate?

Another thought is interesting at this point. Because there is another inner reason that makes it difficult for some managers to let their employees work autonomously. Perhaps you are one of those managers who find it easy to let others stand next to you, you even enjoy suggestions and let them elate and inspire you. And yet you notice a form of discomfort when an employee works quietly in front of you and you don’t know what he’s doing. Then it is possible that you unconsciously have to struggle with a feeling of exclusion. In a way, your employee’s relationship to his or her project is also a relationship. As a leader, you often have higher-level strategic and organizational responsibilities and you may unconsciously experience feelings of envy for the employee who can work directly on the problem. Or a desire to belong. You may find it difficult not to be everywhere and to endure moments when you are not the focus of attention, neither inspired nor involved. What is needed then is the ability to triangulate. Each of us has internalized this ability more or less well. It is the ability to endure exclusion and in some moments even to appreciate it. This ability is especially important as a leader.

So next time you’re in a meeting, and you find yourself to respond impatient to some people’s contributions, sweep aside others’ suggestions, or quietly get upset about others’ contributions, of course this spontaneous response may still be absolutely appropriate. But it’s certainly worth taking a moment to ask yourself, “Honestly, is it a bad suggestion, or can’t I stand it? Because with the increasing ability of a manager to perceive himself and at the same time remain reactive and alert towards others, the team can develop further and bundle the strengths of the individual.

Dipl. Psych. Andrea Wurst, Coach and Trainer


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