3 Reasons to Let Go of Control

Relax, nothing is under control.

Control is, after all, just an illusion – one which we humans are great at exercising.

We often behave as if chance future events are accessible to our supreme personal governance.

One simple form of this fallacy is found in casinos: when rolling dice while playing craps, it has been proven that people tend to throw harder for high numbers and softer for low numbers.

And it seems like the further up the corporate ladder we find ourselves, the more we are expected to control stuff – like people, things, money.

Heck, sometimes it’s as if our job description requires us to be in control of the entire future of our organisation as if it’s a distinct, specific point.  Heath and Heath in their book Decisive outline this phenomenon as one of the four villains of decision making.

But this outdated management style of excessive control and command is a concept of the past.

Here are 3 compelling reasons for leaders to let go of control:

1. People have free will. Controlling (people in particular) is an illusion anyway. They might do what you want them to when you’re around, but are most likely do exactly what they want to, when your back is turned. Signal inefficiency, passive aggressive behaviour – and at its worst, sabotage.

2. Pace of change. We are living in a complex, fast moving, crazy era. Whole movements can develop from a single tweet. Controlling is not conducive to knock your socks off success in this chaotic environment. It just doesn’t fit.

3. Lack of mindfulness. When we focus overtly on controlling things and people, we miss the magic of the present moment.  Creativity hates control. Innovation hates control. Spontaneous moments of brilliance hate control.

Here are 3 alternatives to CONTROLLING which better fit the world we are leading in:

1. Exploration. Seek to understand (and at first, without attachment to the outcome you are so hot on).  You can do this first and foremost by listening.  Then, add a healthy dose of paraphrasing to check your understanding. Finally, conclude with trying your best to appreciate the other person’s perspective. Even if you don’t agree with it.

2. Influence. This can only come after number one. Influence is gained through trust, credibility and reputation. These all begin with mastering the simple, yet often overlooked art of listening.

3. Let go. See what unfolds. From time to time, lean into the chaos and relinquish the urge to know and govern. In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron says –

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”

Tweet: 3 reasons why leaders need to let go of control @suzimcalpine #leadership

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  1. schroera on June 4, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. The cause of much of the stress in our lives is trying to control things which are out of our control. I actually just wrote an article about control myself. If you have a chance, check it out: http://364daysofthanksgiving.com/control/
    I would love to hear any thoughts you might have about it. Thanks!

    • The Leader's Digest on June 4, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      Thanks, Andy for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your article.Yes, aren’t children (and parenting) such a resounding reminder of our illusion of control? I, too remember that epiphany when I first had a new-born and they wouldn’t do as I wanted them to!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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