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Control vs. Discovery: Why We Choose Discovery

Three people walking

April 17, 2017

By: Jeff Campbell

“Control” has always been a dangerous word for leaders. I recently came across a line that debunked control-based leadership so precisely that I will carry it with me for the rest of my life:

“The opposite of control is discovery.”

This came from the global security and defense company, Northrop Grumman, which is known not just for its technology, but also for its integrated leadership, career development, and performance management programs. The concept applied to the development of effective junior leaders and unfolded with the following takeaways that I’ve expanded on.

The Biggest Fear Junior Leaders Have

Emerging leaders often have a generalized personal insecurity, or impostor syndrome. They worry that they are expected to be the smartest person in the room, and fear the possibility of losing control over a situation—whether it’s a conversation, a group meeting, a conflict, or a customer-focused challenge.

The Importance of Engagement

Organizations with flawed leadership models operate on the insinuation that leaders must always have an answer. If you don’t have an answer, you don’t have control. And if you don’t have control, what kind of leader are you? In this environment, control is a steep cliff—the kind that evokes a nauseating moment of fear when you peek over it.

Northrop Grumman, on the other hand, teaches engagement-based leadership. Control mode doesn’t permit input and discussion, both of which are absolutely essential in any work environment. With our application here at the San Diego State University Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) Master’s Program being hotels, restaurants, event venues and other service-based brands, the importance of input from those closest to the customer is magnified. Hospitality and tourism is a fast-paced industry that revolves around innovation—which is the result of what? Discovery.

Shifting the Control-Discovery Scale

Now that we have both control and discovery in play, we can start to give meaning to the line that started this conversation, “The opposite of control is discovery.”

To dial up discovery, you have to be willing to relinquish control. And the more you want to allow for discovery, the more control you have to let go of. Discovery is a journey that requires maximum engagement all around.

How does an organization shift from a hierarchical leadership model to one that promotes engagement?

  • Develop cross-functional teams and tap into the power of diversity.
  • Lead by asking questions not providing answers. I learned this directly from the late Norman Brinker, who would walk into a meeting and ask, “Who are we? Who do we want to be?”
  • Create opportunities for senior leaders to interface with emerging leaders and staff, so they don’t become fully removed from daily activities.
  • Build conversations around solving a problem, and involve all levels of leadership.

Failure in the Right Environment Can be a Good Thing

With discovery comes the possibility of failure. But, while failure in a control-focused environment is categorized simply as failure, in a discovery-driven environment, it becomes experimentation.

When everyone is open and engaged rather than reserved and tentative, failure sheds its most feared impacts. The control cliff disappears, and the worst-case scenario is that the group simply moves forward after an unfruitful discovery. This is how the old Thomas Edison quote, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” manifests as a healthy, happy work environment.

Use the HTM Master’s Program as a Forum for Discovery

The HTM Master’s Program is the ultimate open forum for emerging leaders in hospitality and tourism to let discovery lead the way—not just in your career but also in life. We develop truly engaged, discovery-driven leaders who go on to achieve career success they never thought possible. See how the HTM Master’s Program can change your life.

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