On the Edge of Control

“…Fear is what keeps us from going over the edge……I don’t think what makes a good race car driver is a fearless person. I think it’s somebody that is comfortable being behind the wheel of something that’s somewhat out of control”.                Jeff Gordon

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 2013, at age 20, Marc Márquez of Spain became the youngest ever World Champion of MotoGP in the final race of the season in Valencia.  For anyone who hasn’t witnessed MotoGP, it is truly breath-taking. Riders appear to defy gravity on the bends, with their knees and elbows scraping the surface of the track at speeds in excess of 300km/hour. marquezExperts have commented on the young Márquez’s style saying, “….he drags his elbow on every corner and leans his body and bike closer to the ground than any of his rivals.”  In this sport, being daring and aggressive is a requirement if you hope to succeed. It would look as though an ability to shut out thoughts of fear, and consequences of getting it wrong, are a necessity in this sport. Yet, at the same time, knowing, in that instant, just what would be too much, too fast, too risky is clearly also a vital (and life-preserving) requirement. As is resilience, perseverance and the ability to learn from (and not be put off by) misjudgements.

During the course of the season, Marquez also set the record for the highest-speed crash in motorcycle racing. While practising his gravity-defying turns, he lost control at 320km/hour. He managed to throw himself from his bike just before it crashed against a concrete wall. He was catapulted into a gravel safety trap at 280km/hour, walked away, and competed in the race the next day.  He is very clear about the fact that he must keep learning and improving.  In the final race of the season, he needed to finish no worse than fourth to secure the title.  He worked out that keeping his two main rivals in front of him, where he could watch their every move, was a better strategy than having them plot and scheme their moves from behind him. He rode a sensible, calculating race, taking less risks, staying out of trouble, and safely securing third place, sufficient to win the World Championship.

In your life, would you describe yourself as in control or out of control? Or, have you found the just 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, and, as a consequence, are you in danger of occasionally 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 and distinguish 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 a 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 actually influence, and what is actually within your control.

Control, is one of the most regular themes that I find crops up when coaching business 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 that control is ‘illusory’. 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’.  Being consciously selective with the energy we choose to expend on those areas where it is really worth pushing to the edge, requires flexibility and recognition of what areas you really can influence.

This is an extract from The Vital Edge, released in 2014 and available on Lulu.com, as well as at the following popular retailer sites…..

Amazon.co.uk      Amazon.com    Apple iBookstore    Barnes & Noble (including Nook)

“The Vital Edge” takes you on a fascinating journey through the minds of athletes, Olympians, tennis players and more, as you discover insights that will transform your thinking and enable you, your teams and your business to perform at their very best.


About the author: Louis Collins enables people in business to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of your teams but don’t know where to start, or your people may not be having as effective conversations with each other as they could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.

Could your organisation benefit from raising the leadership skills of its people? Would you, or members of your management team, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Coaching around the rich field of leadership will help provide the edge that you are seeking in 2014. Coaching has been proven to directly impact the bottom line. Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page  and I will be delighted to have an initial discussion.


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