Control vs. the Illusion of Control

How much control does the leader really have over the human dramas and battle plans and swirling maelstroms that unfold around him or her? The so-called Serenity Prayer goes like this:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Yesterday I was at a place called Vertigo – upheaval here, a sudden plummet there & everything felt out of control. Hundreds of choices made over the course of several months by other people had me scrambling for answers. It’s OK, though, because I’m the boss, and the boss is always in control, right? Right?

Think about all of the choices a person makes during an hour of their workday…then multiply that number by 8…then by 22 to get a typical month…then by 12 to get a typical year…and that doesn’t even take into consideration choices made away from work. How much control can another person exercise over any of that? Precious little, yet the snare of the temptation to own the results of others’ actions & choices, as if we and not they had the control, is set always before the leader, inviting us to stumble in. This is one of those things that I find is easy to tell others to avoid but tricky to do myself.

I think influence is a more worthy goal. Control is outcome-focused, while influence is more about the process. I can influence dozens of people at once through my words or actions. I can’t drive a person to work or get them to ask the right question or click the right button, but I can influence them to want to do (or not do) those things consistently & to the best of their abilities. And I can influence other leaders to influence effectively and with inspiration…or not, if I’m not careful. That is control I can legitimately embrace or bemoan because I fully own it.

When I get caught up on the illusion of control I become very self-centered and fail to think or pray about the needs of others. “Oh no, what will this mean for me?,” I wonder. Human nature? Probably, but it doesn’t have to be our default mode for reacting to chaos and the unraveling of our precious plans.

All I need to do now is follow my own advice.

“Your love is teaching me how to kneel.” Bono, “Vertigo”


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