We humans tend to be control freaks. Seriously. You may not think you are a control freak, but the more I observe others and the more honest I am in analyzing my own actions, the more I realize just how much time and effort (conscious or subconscious) we all spend trying to ensure that circumstances, people, and our future turn out the way we want them to. Call it what you want, but it’s really a control thing.
Is it all bad? Of course not. As parents, we invest heavily in shaping and pointing our kids in the right direction. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, but we also do it because we really want to exercise some control over how our kids turn out. We think we know what’s best for them, and we pour ourselves into the task of setting them on a positive course for life while we have the chance to influence them.
As professionals, we get training and education, and then we pour ourselves into meeting and exceeding expectations in the marketplace. We have an idea of where we would like our career to go, so we “bring it” every day, expecting that our hard work and passion will have a positive impact on our future. This can be a healthy approach for exerting some control over our career path.
When does this control bias become a bad thing? I believe healthy influence morphs into an unhealthy bent for control when it is (a) predominantly self-centered, or (b) naively utopian. Most of us know of the parent (or maybe we’ve been the parent?) who is excessively focused on a future outcome or an expected behavior of a child primarily because the desired achievement would reflect well on the parent. Many of us have been part of an organization where it is obvious to an entire team that the leader’s inordinate commitment to a goal or deadline is less about what’s good for the organization and more about what’s good for the leader.
As parents, friends, spouses, or professionals, all too often we believe we have more control than we really do. We can plan, deploy, monitor, adjust, discipline, rally, or incentivize those we wish to influence, but we usually cannot control our way to the exact results we desire. The more we lead, the more keenly aware we become of the truth that leadership requires trust in others, and outcomes depend on the actions of many people over whom we cannot exercise complete control. At some point, greater effort to exert more control results in less, not more, progress toward the outcome we desire.
Question: So what is a control freak to do? Answer: I’m not sure. Would you let me know when you get that figured out? We are entrusted to lead and influence others, yet we are not given all the puppet strings necessary to make it happen just like we want it to.
I think maybe a simple change in mindset would be helpful. If I can recognize the limits of what I can control, then perhaps that would lower my blood pressure a bit. If I seek to influence more by example and less by control, perhaps that would make me a more fun person to work or live with. Perhaps the answer to the question is another question: Do those who know me well feel controlled and manipulated by me, or do they feel influenced and unleashed by me?
Fellow control freaks, as we “bring it” every day, let’s agree complete control is a myth, but there is plenty of room for other-centered leadership which results in less-than-perfect, but positive impact.