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Leadership and Surrender

February 6, 2012 in Innovation, Leadership, Rants, Success, Talent Management with 13 Comments

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth


You’ll rarely encounter the words leadership and surrender used together in complementary fashion. Society has labeled surrender as a sign of leadership weakness, when in fact, it can be among the greatest of leadership strengths. Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging giving in or giving up – I am suggesting you learn the ever so subtle art of letting go. A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control. Here’s the thing – the purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Surrender allows a leader to get out of their own way and focus on adding value to those whom they serve.

If you’re still not convinced the art of leadership is learning the focus point should be on surrender not control, consider this: control restricts potential, limits initiative, and inhibits talent. Surrender fosters collaboration, encourages innovation and enables possibility. Controlling leaders create bottlenecks rather than increase throughput. They signal a lack of trust and confidence an often come across as insensitive if not arrogant. When you experience weak teams, micro-management, frequent turf wars, high stress, operational strain, and a culture of fear, you are experiencing what control has to offer – not very attractive is it?

Surrender allows the savvy leader to serve where control demands the ego-centric leader be served. Surrender allows leadership to scale and a culture of leadership to be established. Surrender prefers loose collaborative networks over rigid hierarchical structures allowing information to be more readily shared and distributed. Leaders who understand surrender think community, ecosystem, and culture – not org chart. Surrender is what not only allows the dots to be connected, but it’s what allows to dots to be multiplied. Controlling leaders operate in a world of addition and subtraction, while the calculus of a leader who understands surrender is built on exponential multiplication.

I have found those who embrace control are simply attempting to consolidate power, while those who practice surrender are facilitating the distribution of authority. When what you seek is to build into others more than glorifying self you have developed a level of leadership maturity that values surrender over control. Surrender is the mindset which creates the desire for leaders to give credit rather than take it, to prefer hearing over being heard, to dialogue instead of monologue, to have an open mind over a closed mind, to value unlearning as much as learning. Control messages selfishness, while surrender conveys selflessness – which is more important to you?

Keep this in mind – we all surrender, and not all surrender is honorable. Some surrender to their ego, to the wrong priorities, or to other distractive habits. Others surrender to the positive realization they are not the center of the universe – they surrender to something beyond themselves in order to accomplish more for others. Bottom line – what you do or don’t surrender to will define you. Assuming you surrender to the right things, surrender is not a sign of leadership weakness, but is perhaps the ultimate sign of leadership confidence. I’ll leave you with this quote from William Booth: “The greatness of a mans power is the measure of his surrender.”


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  • Mark Oakes

    Great post, Mike!

    From experience, ‘Control’ is an illusion that typically resides solely in the mind of the leader who thinks he has orchestrated it. Sure, national/business/etc leaders can use [military] might, psychological tactics and structural constraints to create the perception of control but it’s fragile at best.

    We recently ‘leveled’ some of our perceptions of control by mandating that everyone in the company take an ACTIVE role in pursuing daily improvements. We essentially removed certain perceptions of ‘control’ and moved Responsibility/Accountability down to the grassroot levels. The response has been amazing. We’re blessed to have some really brilliant folks on board. Some of our brightest are our hourly technicians who now have an open channel to me and are submitting ideas on a daily basis.

    keep up the great work, Mike


    • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

      Thanks Mark. Great leaders don’t create barriers – they remove them. Job well done Sir. 

  • www.lynboyer.net/ Boyerlyn

    Mike, Thank you for a very thought-provoking article. This morning, as I thought about a friend who had a stroke, I had a similar thought. He is not yet 60, biked up to 60 miles a day and ate healthy foods. It is hard to understand how this could happen. It is also hard to understand how “bad things can happen to good leaders.” Leaders like to believe they are in control. They believe they are doing all the “right” things, but in the end, there are things no one can control. The mark of a good leader is surrendering to the uncertainty, remaining curious and responding to the unexpected with integrity and commitment to mission.  

    • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing the astute observations. 

  • www.studentlinc.net timage

    Let me first say I really like the image you created. Nice and clean. An extra little touch that adds a level of professionalism to the post. The other thing is that I love the idea of a leader who is willing to surrender…for all of the right reasons. It reminds me of an Andy Stanley principle: “The less you do, the more you accomplish. And the less you do, the more you allow others to accomplish.”

    • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

      Thanks for sharing Andy’s quote – I’ve always been a believer that less is more. To many tend to confuse complexity with sophistication – I believe it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said: Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. I have found it difficult to surrender to the complex, but rather easy to surrender to the simplistic. My advice – simplify everything. 

  • www.facebook.com/james.strock James Strock

    Thanks Mike for such a thought-provoking post!

    It’s interesting that so many world-changing leaders (for good and for ill) have been marked by a combination of extraordinary will and a sense of fatalism. 

    Your exposition of surrender points to the vital and vitalizing role of trust in others and in one’s mission and fate. In that sense, it seems linked to serving others, whereas, as you explain, illusory notions of ‘control’ often point back to serving oneself.

    Thanks for a really interesting read. I’m sure I’m not alone in planning to continue to reflect on it, come back to it. 

    • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

      Thanks Jim – few people can weave words together in as elegant a fashion as you do. Thanks for sharing Jim. 

  • Karl

    From a spiritual/Christian perspective, there is a book that marries these two concepts called, “The Love Paradox: Lead Others by Loving Your Self.” Whether Christian or not, you’ll find this universal principle has application anywhere, everywhere. 

    • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

      Thanks for sharing Karl.

  • www.notredameonline.com/ Jason Monaghan

    I am glad that you posted this idea.  I have been struggling with finding a structure in the company for which I work, and I now am understanding the paradigm that the structure can foster the wrong type of culture.  I would simply add that the support for the elements that are surrendered are a key part of this concept. The surrender always comes with trust, and that trust can be further bolstered with the proper mentoring or support for those left to pick up the reins.

    • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

      Hi Jason:

      Thanks for sharing your insights about the importance of trust. Without trust the existence of leadership is feigned at best. 

  • www.n2growth.com/blog Mike Myatt

    If you’ve ever experienced the strength of the truly humble you’ll find it to have much greater resolve than the rhetoric generated by the bombastic. Thanks for sharing Beverley. 

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