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Change This and Transform Your Leadership

"We call it 'Man in the Funnel' syndrome," Michel told me. "It's the most common leadership style here in the former Yugoslavia."

I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia on a research trip, analyzing the needs of Bosnian leaders as they rebuilt their country after the war.

When I asked Michel to explain, she said many leaders in the region believed that all information, decisions, and relationships needed to flow through them.

"It's a carry-over from when Yugoslavia was under communist influence," Michel went on. "Leadership is much more about consolidating power than empowering others. Many leaders fear a loss of control so trust and transparency aren't really part of the equation."

Since that trip I've used the "man in the funnel" analogy many, many times. Even the best leaders can struggle to empower their organizations. Until they do, they'll never grow beyond their ability to directly control everything.

If you can escape the funnel you can transform your leadership.

Escaping the funnel can be scary, though. It means entrusting important roles to others, empowering team members to make decisions, and delegating authority to the lowest possible level.

Here are three reasons to get out of the funnel:

Escaping the funnel expands your influence.

While it may seem that your influence is greatest when everything flows through you, the opposite is actually true. Staying in the funnel limits your influence to the size of the load you can personally carry. When you empower others, your influence multiplies beyond your own work.

What's often referred to in sports as the "coaching tree" is a good example.

Bill Walsh, hall of fame coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, won 10 out of the 14 playoff games his team played in and three Super Bowls. But his influence is much wider and longer lasting than that. His coaching and leadership models were carried on by his assistant coaches as they later became head coaches at different teams.

His Defensive Coordinator, George Seifert, went on to have one of the highest winning percentages in the NFL. Dennis Green, his Special Teams Coordinator later led the Minnesota Vikings to eight playoff appearances in nine years. Ray Rhodes, his Defensive Backs Coach, was named coach of the year in his first year as head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Walsh's Office Coordinator, Mike Holmgren, molded hall of fame quarterbacks Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Brett Favre. He also led the Green Bay Packers to a super bowl victory. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was influencing super bowl winning coaches Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers), Jon Gruden (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens), and Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs).

As long as you remain in the funnel, your influence is limited. But when you step out of the funnel and empower others, your influence multiplies.

Escaping the funnel activates your team members.

When everything flows through the leader, the expertise, experience, and energy of team members is rarely optimized. Their role is to implement the ideas and decisions of the leader. As a result, innovative ideas are left unconsidered. Alternative solutions aren't implemented. Game-changing breakthroughs rarely occur. Over time employee engagement and productivity suffers because team members aren't able to contribute at the level they could.

When you escape the funnel your team members are challenged to step up. This leads to a stronger sense of involvement and commitment to the work. A new creativity develops and problems that once seemed intractable become manageable. Morale increases. Conflict decreases. And soon you find you've sparked a virtuous cycle that improves every aspect of your business.

Escaping the funnel energizes your efforts.

According to a survey conducted by The Alternative Board nearly three quarters of business owners feel overwhelmed by their role and responsibilities. Though a few people seem to have energy and stamina to spare regardless of their context, most of us need a regular rhythm of work and rest to stay on top of our game.

Leading in the funnel makes it almost impossible to find that rhythm.

When was the last time you took a day off without checking email or receiving work-related phone calls? When was your last true vacation? How long would your business survive if you were unable to work due to a medical or health issue?

Leaders who escape the funnel no longer carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They don't have to worry what will happen when they're gone. They know others will step up and that they can be trusted to do what's necessary. As result, leaders are more rested, their thinking is more clear, and they have a more positive outlook on their work.

In addition, these leaders are able to focus on the aspects of their role that are most important: vision, strategy, partnerships, vital communication, and developing new leaders. When you're in the funnel, it seems like there's never enough time to address these critical areas. But once you escape, you're able to engage in them in the way your business deserves.

Escaping the funnel will transform your leadership. It will transform your teams. And it will transform your organization. Yes, it can be scary to get started, but the benefits are worth it. Once you've escaped, you'll never look back.


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