Hands Open or Fist Closed Leader?

Over the last few months, the ongoing developments at Tata and Infosys have shed light on the very real challenges that organizations face in bringing in new leaders and enabling their success. While it would be unfair for us to sit in judgement without knowing all the details, the fact remains that in the past two decades, 30% of Fortune 500 chief executives have lasted less than three years.

While Tata and Infosys were obviously very public, such a situation is far from uncommon. Founders who put in their sweat, blood and tears in building their dream companies often struggle when it comes to handing over the reins to someone else; to the detriment of the very organization that they cherish.

A very wise person once told me, ‘when you try to hold sand in your hands, you have two choices. You can either try and close your fist, in which case the sand will only fall out of your hand and you will be able to hold very little. Or else, you can try and open your hands more, and you will see that you are able to hold much more sand’!

We all, at some point in time in our professional lives, have worked with the ‘closed fist’ Leader. Their need to stay in control, wanting to know everything to the minute detail all the time, not giving too much space – the ‘my way or the high way’ approach is never a joy for subordinates.

Assuming that the capability is there, the only way to ‘scale’ is to be able to work with, and through people giving them the space needed and enabling them to operate effectively. Ironically, a lot of times it is their inability to know when to let go and hold on, that inhibits Leaders own scale and growth.

So, what does a ‘hands open’ Leader do better:

  • Defines boundaries: Which means the leader defines the playing rules and ensures everyone knows what the boundaries are. And within those boundaries they provide all the independence and freedom possible
  • Provides clarity: Many a time, leaders act in a ‘closed fist’ manner due to their own inability to provide clarity or their own lack of understanding. A ‘hands open’ leader provides clarity by setting clear expectations and defining the right measures
  • Track outcomes and not activities: They put in place strong review mechanisms that help them periodically track outcomes and not activities. Hence, driving strong result orientation
  • Communicate: They communicate consistently and openly, and also provide and receive honest feedback
  • Stand behind and not on top: They are supportive, willing to walk in the other person’s shoes and are open to looking at different perspectives
  • And finally, they are self-assured

The business world is changing. What exists today, becomes irrelevant tomorrow. Hence, the demands on leaders will only be getting more and more.

In such a scenario, hands open or fist tight? Each leader should decide…