Stop Being So Controlling

I’m a control freak.

See, I have this picture in my mind about my business, my kids, my wife, my health and my comfort. You want to see me anxious or angry? Mess with those pictures.

Here’s an example. Last week my wife and I were up late creating a game plan to address some behaviors we felt needed correcting in our first grade boys. We debated several approaches, and I slept fitfully, feeling the weight of my responsibility as a dad.

The next day I related these challenges over lunch to a pair of executives. One looked at me incredulously and asked, “Are you serious!? Let it go. They’re just kids being kids! You sound like you’re running your family like you’re running a business!”

What an impact that comment had on me!

But you know what? I’ve thought more about it and have realized his comment implies it’s ok to run my business with that level of control. Is it really?

Don’t get me wrong; we all need feedback, coaching and accountability. So often, though, I have a picture in my mind of how work should be done, and I try to fix, change and drive people to my vision.

And yet…when I write those words, it all sounds so normal, so completely logical.

To some degree and at certain times, we’re all control freaks.

micro management

And here’s what we’re doing in the process: We’re limiting the engagement of others and making ourselves angry and anxious.

Don’t believe you’re controlling? Well, here are three signs that you probably are (and what you can do about it).

    1. Observing. When we watch from the sidelines as someone else volunteers for the task, raises their hand or says something risky, we stay safe: We control our comfort.The next time you’re scrolling through your news feed, comment on articles and posts. When you’re in a meeting and afraid a dumb comment will make others think less of you, say it anyway. When the opportunity surfaces to lead a new initiative, raise your hand. You’re needed in the game! Let go of the need to control your comfort.
    2. Talking. When we’re talking, it’s our answer, our idea, our direction: We control the agenda. I notice I talk more when I’m nervous and when I’m adamant about a point (when I’m losing control).The next time you’re talking, try using my structure for talking in “Tweets” – character-limited messages that connect and matter to others. Or imagine a basketball shot clock ticking down from 45 seconds. Before it runs out, pause and ask for other perspectives. Dialogue, don’t download. Let go of your need to control with an agenda.
    3. Doing. My wife once asked me how my day went. “Great,” I responded. When she asked why, I said, “Because I got a lot done.” To which she replied, “Is that the only way that you measure your day?”

It stopped me in my tracks. I realized that when I “do,” I sense progress toward my vision: I’m controlling the outcome.

Thinking, listening and dialoguing can be unpredictable, ambiguous and sometimes derailing. But the next time you’re tempted to put your head down and plow through, to go it alone, ask yourself, “What do I need to let go of doing right now?”

Don’t these all sound so benign…and so unsuspectingly normal?

If you see yourself in any of the above, what will you do to let go and stop being so controlling?



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