Be Less in Control
Radical Inclusion

Be Less in Control

Relinquishing control yields better, longer-lasting solutions that preserve and enhance your power as a leader and your power as an organization.

Martin Dempsey, former chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ori Brafman, author and business professor, show that holding a competitive edge no longer depends on maintaining control. Brafman and Dempsey provide specific inclusion strategies as they help leaders understand how their organizations are operating differently in today’s more global, interconnected and communicative environment. The authors reach out to leaders who recognize – or should recognize – that old practices must change.

We must develop an instinct for seeking opportunities to share control in order to preserve and even enhance the power we possess. Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman

Having Dempsey discuss how command-and-control organizations are now obsolete is pretty fascinating. His astonishing embrace of relinquishing control, given that he spent his career in the ultimate command-and-control environment – the military – grants him and Brafman immediate credibility.


Dempsey and Brafman discuss how communities define people’s identity. However, they assert, global travel and communication make communities less insular. Controlling the borders of a community has value, but, Dempsey and Brafman caution, it comes at great cost. When reports arrive about outsiders who want to join your community, the authors warn that you’ll find it difficult to judge the accuracy of those reports or to identify your own biases.

Control is a form of exclusion and, the authors emphasize, it comes at the cost of time or money. However, they note, digital interactions can facilitate greater inclusiveness.

“Digital Echo”

Dempsey and Brafman cite climate change as a classic example of how digital echo limits knowledge gathering. This problem manifests, for example, when two people with disparate political views turn to two different, conflicting news sources seeking trustworthy information. 

Once they check their news sources, the authors relate, these two people share their disparate stories with their friends on social media. Their friends support those findings by sharing similar stories. Someone might present a peer-reviewed journal article that supports the factual background of climate change. Someone else might not value that research. The authors note that those who receive information find voices in their own communities that validate their beliefs, such as the idea that climate change doesn’t exist. Dempsey and Brafman seem to aim their description of this process at an older demographic; few younger people today would need any explanation of this dynamic.

In a world where verifying facts is becoming increasingly difficult, inclusion is imperative.
Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman

Dempsey and Brafman grasp that facts are not necessarily interesting and seldom produce emotional engagement; instead, stories win the day. They reveal that people don’t even expect stories to be completely accurate and that flexibility allows storytellers to share stories even if they don’t remember exact details.


Dempsey and Brafman remind you that people cluster – without always being aware of this behavior – with those who are similar to themselves. The authors underline a painful truth when they write that people who exclude those who aren’t different, they miss the opportunity to learn from others and to broaden their scope.

Real inclusion isn’t about letting just anyone in; it’s about understanding the pillars of participation, personalization and purpose.Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman

Dempsey and Brafman make a convincing case for their conviction that a leader’s most important task is to make people feel that they belong. Invest in your staff members by spending time with them. The authors urge you to help people understand how their individual contributions matter and to reflect on what success feels like as an individual and as a part of a team. They recommend showcasing team successes as memorable, mutual learning experiences.

When you or your team fails, Dempsey and Brafman encourage you to seize the opportunity to learn what each person might have done differently and how the team missed certain goals. They teach that allowing time for this reflection provides a sense of safety that allows employees to challenge themselves and improve. To develop your employees’ imagination, the authors encourage you to avoid complacency, cultivate advisers who are willing to challenge authority, accept complexity and always seek additional new information.

Leaders must help everyone understand why their participation and contributions are meaningful. According to Dempsey and Brafman, a great team leader is responsible for offering explanations, encouragement and inspiration.


Dempsey and Brafman remind you that knowing the context of a situation improves your ability to make decisions about it. They recognize that leaders dislike giving up control. Almost shockingly for a General, Dempsey (and Brafman) maintains that concentrating power cultivates animosity and that flexibility stems from recognizing that power constantly shifts. The authors underscore that a solution that works today may not be the right solution for tomorrow, so leaders must be agile and cultivate alliances.

Leaders claim they listen, but unless they are open to changing their position, the authors explain, they are only pretending. The authors reiterate their core message: When you listen to everyone, problems become more apparent and so do solutions.

The Ideal

Dempsey reveals himself as the flexible, community-first leader he and Brafman describe as the ideal. Though at times the authors’ insights seem to be aimed toward a less theoretically oriented and more rigid audience – for example, members of the military – there’s no arguing with their fundamental ideas about being slow to assume that tales on the internet have credibility and being quick to allow subordinates to express themselves. Dempsey and Brafman’s utilitarian prose moves quickly and should inspire those who embrace the concept of relinquishing control.

Martin A. Dempsey also wrote No Time for Spectators. Ori Brafman’s other books include Sway and Click; he co-authored The Starfish and the Spider and The Chaos Imperative.

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