Control is something we all want, and most leaders think a lot about control. Many of the big leadership questions revolve around control and who has it. Does control come from position? Are leaders exerting more control by micromanaging? And what about control and employee engagement? How you answer those questions, and a hundred others, must start with understanding what is in your control.
What’s on the List?
When you break down the list of what is in your control, the list is short, but powerful.
What You Do. This one is pretty straightforward. The actions you take are in your control. No one walks for you, hits send on the email for you, reads a book for you – name it. Our actions are ours in every area of our life.
What You Say. As Zig Ziglar used to say, “putting words in someone’s mouth is unsanitary,” it is also not possible. Words come from your thoughts and through your lips. In the end, one can make you say anything – your words are in your control.
What You Think. Your thoughts are yours. They can be influenced by where you are, what you read, see, and hear and more, but ultimately your thoughts are in your head.
How Your Feel. Your emotions are your own. Chances are there has been a time in your life when you felt something differently that people expected you to – and their projection on you didn’t change that emotion. Our feelings are ours, in our control.
What You Choose. In some ways this is a summary or overview of the other four things. As a human we make decisions – we choose – what we will do, say, think and feel. Sometimes it feels like one or more of those things is out of our control, but if not us, who?
Control vs. Influence
If you read that list closely it quickly lets you know what you can’t control. Here is a short list, particularly relevant for leaders:
- Other people
- Their reactions
- Whether they read your email
- Their attitude
- Their discipline or work ethic
- One hundred other things you think about, wonder about, and worry about as a leader
Or stated another way, there is a whole lot that we don’t have in our control, that matters a lot to us and our success.
Does that mean we should just fold up our tent and call it a day, since we can’t control others and outcomes?
No, in fact realizing that we can’t control those things actually improves our ability to succeed, because we stop trying to. Since we can’t control them, we can shift our focus to what we can do; influence them. And leadership (and parenting, and relationships, and life) is all about influence.
An Application of this Principle
Once you understand and agree with the premise that there is a difference between what you can control and what you can influence, and when you understand the difference, you become clear on your options for any situation.
Imagine a situation you encountered with your team that didn’t go exactly how you had hoped. Before acting, use these questions to determine your response:
- How important is it?
- Sometimes leaders get involved in things they don’t need to. Let Maybe you can let the group figure it out. Maybe it isn’t exactly how you would have done it, but is it necessary to comment at all?
- If you decide it is important enough for you to act, ask the next question.
- Is it in my control?
- When you review the list above, it is likely, since others were involved, that you don’t have control of it all, rather you must consider how you can influence it for the better.
- Once you are clear on your role – control or influence, ask the last question.
- What can I do now to make it better?
- Now that you are clear on the control/influence question are you able to be accountable for what you can effectively and appropriately do next. This question keeps you accountable for improving things, but is most effective after answering the first two questions.
Understanding control and influence is critical to creating empowerment, understanding accountability, coaching others and leading effectively. If you would like to understand how to apply these ideas and further your leadership development in meaningful ways, consider joining me for an upcoming From Manager to Remarkable Leader learning experience. You can learn more here.