Imagine yourself riding a motorcycle in a high-speed race. You are at full throttle going round the final bend. Only a delicate balance between gravity and centrifugal forces are preventing you from flying off the track. At that moment, are you in control of your bike, or are you out of control? The answer is you are ‘right on the edge’. Too much ‘in control’ and you probably aren’t taking enough risk, and are unlikely to win the race. Too much ‘out of control’ and the likelihood is you are in for a very painful crash.
In your life, are you in control or out of control? Or, have you found the right balance – not just for you, but for your teams, your colleagues, and for your organisation? Are you pushing the limits constantly, in order to win the race, and, as a result, are you in danger of spinning out of control? Or, are you driving a safe race, within the pack, within your comfort zone, making sure you finish, but never in danger of winning? What about the people you see around you? Do you recognise the cruisers and the risk takers?
The reality of course is that people vary across time and situation. No-one can sustain flat-out, full-throttle, in what they do, without crashing sooner or later (probably sooner!). Everyone needs time for recovery and regeneration, and cruise time (or even pit stop) is a sensible way to achieve that. There will of course be times when the prize is considered worth it, when the risks are deemed to be in your favour, and you decide to go for it. The skill is in the judgement of picking your moment, selecting when best to make your move, and being aware of what you can influence.
Control, is one of the most regular themes that I find crops up when coaching clients.
Some people report that they feel they have no control. They may be in a job where they are not given the responsibility they feel they deserve, they are not involved in making decisions, they believe they are unable to challenge authority. They feel they have more to offer, but don’t seem to be able to get their voice heard. They have a sense of being trapped and helpless.
Others feel out of control. Things are moving too fast, they are expected to make the key decisions, they don’t feel they have the support around them to share the burden, they are in authority and therefore ‘expected’ to be able to handle the pace and responsibility.
Yet others, may have moved beyond a simple wish for control, to a state of not being able to “let go” of control. They retain a tight grasp on the tiller, perhaps fearing that their very identity and existence depends on maintaining this position. Any suggestion of circumstances changing can cause panic, resulting in them tightening their control even more.
The reality is, control is illusory. We believe we can control more of our lives than we actually can. Sandra Sanger’s short article “The Illusion of Control” is worth a read on this subject.
Excessive control can cause damage to both individuals and to organisations. Control stifles creative thinking and innovation (for a balanced argument on this point see the linked article by Cristiano Busco on Control vs Creativity). It diminishes trust and openness, conditions required for healthy workplace engagement.
The irony is that there may actually be more “control” enjoyed in adopting a “flexible” position than working constantly at keeping everything just so. Adopting this stance, will of course call for many people to re-frame their concept of “control”. Those of you who play sports, such as golf or tennis, know this intuitively. Smooth and ‘controlled’ golf swings and tennis strokes, rarely occur as a result of intense concentration on every minutiae of the grip, stance and swing. A relaxed, flexible and natural approach is more likely to produce successful outcomes – resulting in greater ‘overall control’ of your golf or tennis game.
Four great questions to ask clients (or yourself)……
- What don’t you control?
- What have you been trying to control?
- What could you influence that you have not been?
- What actually happens when you give up control?
Recognising how little we actually do control in our lives is a great starting point to allow us to re-appraise our relationship with control. Be selective with the energy expenditure on those areas where it is really worth pushing to the edge. Be flexible, and get to know the areas that you really can influence.
If you feel that you or members of you team would benefit from exploring areas that can make substantial improvements to your effectiveness and productivity, please do get in touch. Simply submit your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to get in touch with you for an informal initial chat.