When you think about control for a minute, what immediate thoughts come to mind?

I’ve been thinking about control, and how it shows up for me in different scenarios where I shift towards it or shift away from it.

It can be comfortable. It can be protective. And, at it’s worst, it can be manipulative.

When I’m feeling full from work and life, I tend to brace myself and want to control more. And that specifically shows up for me in trying to control my time at a micro level. Watching the minutes every hour, wondering how much I can get done with the 4 extra minutes that someone “gifted” me by ending a meeting early. Unfortunately, trying to control my time bleeds into trying to control the people who are trying to control my time. Reflecting on this, I don’t like reacting this way, even if no one knows how I feel but me.

Do you ever feel the same?

As a leader…

  • Do you move through the day with people like transactions on an assembly line? “Next….next….next….”

  • If you sense that something is being added to your plate (or your team’s plate) without your permission, do you react/attack/reject?

As a teammate…

  • How are you affected by seeing your teammates do great things? Do you rate what they’ve accomplished in your mind, trying to control the narrative even just for yourself?

  • How do you view your relationships with each other? How does control affect each one?

Control is always tied to self (controlling outcomes, controlling judgement/critique) and it always leads back to us (being self-conscious about how we might be seen by others).

I was recently reminded of a theory from a sociologist named Erving Goffman, shifting from being self-conscious to “interaction conscious”. Remembering that the need for control has everything to do with us and how we show up personally – and instead focusing on our relationships with people, and our interactions with them. Less about “me”, more about “we”. Being more present with our interactions with others can help us understand if our need for control is dominating a relationship.

It can help us better understand how people are experiencing us as leaders – command-and-control or supportive and trusting? It can reveal how we’re showing up relationally within a team – as an anchor dragging through the sand, or wind behind a sail?

With control, we have choice. Our choices about control are less helpful if we treat them like buttons that we push, and more like stereo dials that can be tuned to benefit the relationships with people we care about. As said by many, the only thing we can control, is ourselves.

Here are a few related resources that I’ve enjoyed recently and have been sharing:

1 // Five pro tips on “How to Control Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation“. There’s that word again. Simple suggestions, but each can make a massive emotional difference. (7 min read)

2 // “Command and Control leadership is dead.” says Robert Glazer, host of the Elevate podcast. Unfortunately, it’s still very much alive, just not useful anymore in most places. (5 min read)

3 // Edgar Schein’s “humble series” of books includes “Humble Leadership”, and here in this Talk at Google he shares thoughts about relationships, “humble inquiry”, and being “interaction conscious”. (58 min video)

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