5/26/13 “Controlling”


Good day, team.


This week’s challenge is about control. Here’s one definition of control: to exercise restraint or direction over; to dominate; to command. This says it pretty well from my point of view. For example, occasionally, my husband makes dinner for us. I’m always happy when he does because it takes me away from one of my daily responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook. But it’s certainly nice to have a break from part of my daily routine. However, he frequently has to ask me to get out of the way when he’s trying to cook. Admittedly, I have a hard time not controlling the kitchen. Even when I can see that he’s got it “under control,” there’s rarely a time when I don’t make at least one suggestion for how I think he could be doing something better. This evokes a raised eyebrow and a certain look he gives me that says, “You’re trying to control me, and it’s irritating.” And then he almost always comes up with a fine dinner without any of my suggestions.



Of course, woe be it for me to borrow something or move something around in his tool shed. That’s his domain, and he likes to control it as much as I like to control our kitchen.



Why do we need to control things? And why do we need to control other people as well as our environments at home and work? It’s so pervasive that we even do it when we’re on vacation. Why do we fear chaos? Why does the idea of completely letting go seem so terrifying?



Ultimately, I think we try to control our environment to get our needs met. We believe that if we can control our lives, it will guarantee certain results. Of course, within that belief is another belief that no one can guarantee results better than we can, and we would never want to give control over to someone else. That would make us vulnerable to hurt, failure, rejection, etc.



What’s most interesting to me about control in the work environment is how people react to it. In the 20 years I worked as an executive recruiter, the response I heard most often when asking a potential candidate what kind of boss they enjoyed working for was, “I hate being micro-managed. I love working for someone who empowers me by guiding, then allowing me to figure it out for myself.” No one likes to work for a “control freak,” and yet, we all try to control others to get what we want.



Here’s something to think about. Envision yourself in an automobile in a bad snowstorm. The road is icy, and the visibility is poor. Would you prefer to be the driver in this scene or the passenger? I imagine most people would prefer to be the driver. Why?



A good part of a controller’s life is spent strategizing about how to get the best outcomes. Of course, we all know how well that works. How many times do we go into a project with a great plan only to be thrown a major curve ball that changes everything? Most good project managers will tell you that it’s not how well you can manage the project by controlling all the factors that makes them successful – it’s how well you respond to all the factors that come up during the project that threaten to throw it off course. Versatility and adaptability are key to the overall success of any project. I’d say, a sense of humor helps too!



I learned a lot about my need to control when I fell down the stairs a year and a half ago. Within those three seconds of free fall, my life changed dramatically. Before the fall, I had a full calendar with meetings, events and projects scheduled. I had a notion of what my week ahead would be like. I was in control of how things were going. I was even in control of how I looked. All of that changed in a few seconds. Suddenly, I was broken, lying at the bottom of a staircase without the ability to do anything —not even cry. I was completely vulnerable.



The next week was unlike any I had experienced before. I was in the hospital completely dependent on other people for all forms of life support. I couldn’t do a thing for myself. I just lay in bed and watched as my amazing care givers came and went — my wonderful husband who sat vigilantly in the corner chair, the nurses, the doctors, the therapists, the maintenance people, etc. Each of them, completely focused on my health and recovery.



I saw that these people were taking better care of me than I ever could have imagined possible. I never would have asked anyone to devote themselves so completely to my care and well-being. And because I had no control, I had to surrender to all of them. In that surrender, I had to let go of the persona I had created to live my life — how I acted, how I looked, and most important, how I controlled my life to support that persona.



The beauty was that who I really am didn’t change at all. In fact, by surrendering control, I fell into the deep well of gratitude that resides in us all. There, with the help and loving kindness of so many others, I recovered what is truly uncontrollable: my true loving nature.



Now, I try to remember this lesson about surrender when I’m trying to control someone else. And I try to forgive others when they want to control me. It all stems from fear and anxiety, which I’ve learned is the opposite of our true loving nature.



This week, see if you can let go of the grip that your need to control has on you. Maybe you are convinced that if you could just change how a certain person is behaving, your team would be so much more successful. Or maybe you’re irritated by your kids or your spouse because they don’t pick up after themselves or do what you ask. Do you find yourself controlling others by passive aggressive tactics, such as withholding information or engagement, to reach your desired outcome? Perhaps you’re much more direct and just tell people what to do because you’re convinced that you know the best way forward and you need to make sure everyone is going the same direction. How much of your control comes from the fear of what might happen if you delegate to someone else? If you don’t control it, who will?



Whatever your particular style of control, try experimenting this week by allowing someone else to take control. Or maybe just surrender in a moment without knowing that someone else will step in. Try delegating more than you normally would so that you relinquish control of your desired outcome. You’ll then have an opportunity to judge whether or not the outcome was good enough based on its own merit. Ironically, resisting the temptation to assist or make suggestions during the process requires a certain amount of control on your part (controlling yourself to not be so controlling). It also requires that you surrender to someone else’s idea of how something should get done rather than injecting your own ideas.



On the other hand, you could consider my husband’s response when I try to control his kitchen activities. He quotes Groucho Marx:



“Man does not control his own fate. The women in his life do that for him.”



Have a good week!





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