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To achieve great things, we must share control

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We all like to feel in control. Of ourselves, our surroundings and our work.

Hay Group’s research on human motivation recognises that every single one of us has an inherent need to control others. Some of us express this as ‘personalised control’ (I need to have control over you) and others as ‘socialised control’ (I need to have a positive impact on you/society); some of us have a mix of both.

The need for personalised control has been nurtured across public services for many decades; leaders have been recognised for their heroic style and the inherent organisational design empowers the most senior leader to have the greatest control. Additionally, organisational cultures are typically ‘siloed’ both within and between public service organisations.

We know that leaders can struggle to recognise their need to be in control, and can become inflexible to new ways of working or indeed when being challenged by peers or subordinates. But changing times call for changing approaches in public services, and public sector leadership.

Recent experience reminds me that the best leaders stop controlling for personal gain, and focus on the broader positive impact they can have. The impressive progress in the Manchester region has been achieved by people who lead large, complex and sometimes competitive enterprises – relinquishing personal control of their organisational agenda to work collaboratively for the benefit of the region.

Our work in London to better integrate health and social care involves leaders from across the healthcare economy who are able to recognise and overcome their need to be in control. We also see that the best children’s social workers achieve the greatest outcomes for children and families by enabling families to be in control of the intervention they are experiencing.

What we see in these examples is that positive outcomes are delivered by people who have the capability to focus on their need for socialised rather than personalised control by working collaboratively for the greater good.

Public service delivery will be most successful when individual leaders focus on working collectively to have a greater impact on society, rather than letting their need for control actually control them.

Jonathan Magee, head of local government consulting, Hay Group

Column sponsored and supplied by Hay Group


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