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Want To Become a Better Leader? Give up Control

Three people speak on how to become a better leader at a Dreamforce session.
Build a relationship with your employees that’s rooted in trust. Be curious, be empathetic, and be open.

When you pass the baton to others and collaborate in new ways, you foster trust and deeper relationships. Here are three ways to get started.

If you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down. This idea is an adaptation from Toni Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon.” 

During this year’s Dreamforce, our annual event that brings together the Salesforce community, a common topic across sessions was the concept of control — and how giving up some of it might be exactly what you need to become a better leader and build trust with your teams. 

Larry Summers is a perfect example of a leader who knows when to relinquish control. In his role as former director of the White House National Economic Council and secretary of the U.S. Treasury, he responded to numerous macroeconomic and sociopolitical factors and crises. He didn’t have the luxury of adopting the illusion that he had control while doing his job. 

Where is the economy headed?

Hear more from Larry Summers on the past and future of the global economy at Dreamforce.

And that concept is one the best leaders understand. You have to give up control. You cannot fly otherwise. But there is also an art to giving up control. Here are three steps to help you soar.

1. Trust your employees to get the job done

An article published by Forbes about trust and control cited a survey that polled 1,500 decision makers and found 65% did not fully trust their staff to do their jobs from home. And 39% said they believed their staff don’t work as hard or effectively at home. 

At the same time, only one in five (19%) of those same decision makers reported a decrease in productivity since moving to remote work.

So why don’t decision makers trust employees to get the work done even when productivity isn’t declining?

It’s a bit unnatural for many of us to give up control. But it’s much easier to do when there’s trust between two people. 

Summers told Dreamforce attendees about the trusting relationship he developed with Sheryl Sandberg, who recently stepped down as chief operating officer of Meta. Summers mentored Sandberg when she served as chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury Department under President Clinton. In exchange for his trust and prioritization, Sandberg made his success her top priority. 

“She expected me – and I was happy and honored to do everything – to help her advance her career,” said Summers. In return, she did everything she could to help Summers become a better leader. “She did as good a job as she could at the moment and not just on her way to a rosy future.”

Sandberg was loyal to Summers when dealing with third parties, and represented Summers’ point of view. “Behind closed doors, she didn’t hesitate to tell me I was full of shit,” said Summers. “That was enormously valuable.” 

To become a better leader, build a relationship with your employees that’s rooted in trust. Be curious, be empathetic, and be open. This article breaks down how you can establish a foundation of trust in one hour, one quarter, and one year. 

2. Create strategic alignment across the business

When your team’s purpose, initiatives, and strategies are set, it’s much easier to give up that urge to control your team. 

At Salesforce, we create alignment with a management process that we call our V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles, measures). The V2MOM helps us clarify what we’re doing and establish priorities throughout the year. This process helps us maintain a cohesive direction and binds us all together in the work that we do. 

Other companies, like Nextdoor, take similar approaches to creating strategic alignment. Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar shared at Dreamforce how the company screens all initiatives through a purpose-driven lens to determine its strategy. If something doesn’t align with the purpose, it doesn’t get done. During the screening process, leaders make sure:

  • Every activity leads to impact 
  • Each goal is actionable 
  • No one is pushing a personal agenda

I met her mom. We played ping pong with her husband. It was a totally different level of connectedness that you never would have thought of.

Anjali Sud, CEO of Vimeo

Summers also shared the three questions he always starts with when setting a strategy.  

  • Can you define what you want?
  • What are your means or leverage to get what you want?
  • What are you prepared to sacrifice and what concessions are you prepared to make as part of getting what you want?

3. Break from your traditional way of doing things

Our final piece of advice is to try something new in your quest to become a better leader. We realize this requires giving up some control, but without innovation, how can we grow? Here are a few new ideas we overheard at Dreamforce.

Anjali Sud, CEO of Vimeo, has an executive team that is spread across nine time zones, from Switzerland to Seattle. Sud initially assumed she’d need her executive team to fly to headquarters every month to stay connected. But, then she decided to try something new. She asked everyone to host meet-ups in their respective locations.

“Our CFO hosted us in Vermont, in her she-shed,” Sud said in a Dreamforce session. “I met her mom. We played ping pong with her husband. It was a totally different level of connectedness that you never would have thought of if you were prescribing the typical office.” 

For larger, global team meetings and updates, Vimeo is using video asynchronously (instead of meeting live, which can exclude people in distant time zones).

Sud explained that “instead of scheduling a meeting where you have all these different time zones and someone has to get up at 7 a.m. and someone has to stay up until 9 p.m. and then if you miss the meeting, it’s a 3-hour QVR, and then you’re expecting someone to watch the recording. Nobody ever is going to do that.” 

Now, the company is experimenting with using its own tools so that someone can send out a presentation asynchronously, for example. That way, she said, no one has to attend a meeting at a specific time.  

Calendly Founder and CEO Tope Awotona told the Dreamforce audience that his company hosts a staff-wide retreat every six months. It also provides a travel budget for people to connect ad-hoc. And, it created more frequent “Ask Me Anything” sessions and office hours to get that powerful gift of feedback.

For Lynn Martin, the president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), virtual white-boarding is the key to promoting the type of ideation that used to happen in the hallways.

It’s not always easy to relinquish control. But to become a better leader, you can start by building a foundation of trust, aligning on a strategic vision, and innovating your approach. 

Hear from more CEOs at Dreamforce

Tune in to hear Nextdoor CEO Sara Friar and other leaders discuss how to lead with empathy and use your platform to change the world.

Ivy Wright Writer

Ivy Wright managed the relaunch of the C-Suite Perspectives newsletter and creates content and guides direction for C-Suite themes, events, research, etc.

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