It’s amazing to me how many leaders I know tell me they struggle with control.
When I tell people I have control issues, a surprising number tell me, in hushed tones, that they have the same issue. Then, usually, we both sheepishly look away for a moment and move on in conversation.
Most leaders have a love hate relationship with control.
It’s not surprising. People who like control seem to have a natural ability to get into leadership positions. Or sometimes they create one.
For years, I resisted the control freak label.
I wasn’t a control freak. I was
Detail oriented (of course, only very selectively about the things for which I had the most passion)
Good at what I did (okay, you don’t say that one out loud…but control freaks, you know what happens when you delegate to other people who just can’t get the job done, right?)
Control freaks can get things done.
I pastor a church, and our church grew explosively when in my undiagnosed control freak days. So you would think, well, God blesses control freaks, doesn’t he?
And yes, of course he loves them.
But apparently Jesus didn’t model control freakishness very well for those of us who want to follow in his footsteps.
He only ministered for three years, building into some questionable characters he called disciples. He poured his life into them and then left the planet and put them in charge.
A number of years ago I finally admitted I have a problem (only after about 1282 had gently hinted that I might). And I began to let go.
Don’t get me wrong, the impulses are still there.
But learned behaviour has a wonderful way of compensating for impulses that no leader should act on.
Here are 5 insights that help me remember that controlling everything means you will eventually end up leading nothing significant:
1. Control is often a substitute for a lack of clear strategy or alignment. If you don’t know with absolute clarity what your organization is doing, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there (mission, vision and strategy), you can never truly align a team. As a result, you end up defaulting to control because people ‘just don’t get it’ and as a result you can’t trust them (or so you think). The reason you can’t ‘trust’ people of even stellar character is not because they aren’t trustworthy, it’s because you haven’t stated the mission, vision and strategy clearly enough that it’s repeatable and reproducible. They run off in the wrong direction because you never made it clear what the right direction is. Create clarity, and you will feel the urge to control dissipate.
2. Control is often a substitute for an inability or unwillingness to delegate well. The reason you control is because you gave the job to someone else and, well, they just didn’t do a good job. Ever think you maybe just didn’t train them well? Get good at delegation. Again, clarity is your friend. The clearer you are, the better you train others, the more razor sharp your strategy is, the more your team will knock it out of the park. To accelerate the level of delegation, our staff are looking at integrating apps like Sweet Process to help more volunteers do things staff used to do. Grow the team. Grow the mission.
3. Your need to control and the size of your organization are inversely proportional. If everything needs to flow through you, you will not only bottleneck your organization, you’ll kill the potential of the mission. The more you need to control, the smaller your organization will stay. The more you can release (around a crystal clear mission, vision and strategy), the more it will grow.
4. Control repels great leaders. If you want great leaders to flee your organization, control them. They’ll leave. If you want to attract great leaders, release them with a clear mission ,vision and strategy (and give them input to shape it). As long as you micromanage everything, you will only have do-ers in your organization, not leaders.
5. The more you let go, the healthier the organization gets. I now often go to events our church staff and volunteers have pulled together and I need to look at my calendar for the details—that’s how involved I was in the planning. And you know what? They’re the best events we’ve ever run. The more I get out of the way, the stronger our team and organization get. Sure, I play a role, but I clearly don’t play every role. Nor should I. I love being a “guest” to the exceptional things our team does. And they love leading and helping people lead. It’s just healthier. The more I let go, the healthier our organization gets.
When I feel the impulse to control, I remind myself of these five things.
As a bonus this week, all my blog subscribers will get a downloadable graphic called the “Let Go Checklist.” Its a simple, single page graphic with the five insights from this post that you can use as wallpaper on your computer or phone or print and keep in a handy place. Because sometimes us control freaks just need a reminder. I’ll send it out with my Saturday subscriber email. If you’re not on my blog Insider list, just sign up today using the form at the top right of my blog under my pic. Then watch for it in your inbox Saturday morning.
What are you learning about control?