“Nevermind, I’ll do it myself.”
I’m willing to bet you’ve said that, muttered that, or at least thought that, and probably more than a couple times. Maybe you’ve even joked, “if you want something done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself.”
But maybe that quip had the edge of truth to it?
Pause for a second and consider – do you need it done RIGHT? Or deep down do you really just need to know you did it YOURSELF?
“Perfectionism is a delusion that can rob one of a very successful, enriching life if not careful.”
Why do you need control?
Many of my clients come to me stuck in their field of what they control. It looks a little different every time – one micromanages their team, another has overfilled their plate by never saying “No” to anything.
Control can be sneaky and deceptive; even when it starts out with someone or something else running the show. You’ve accepted everything a manager or colleague wants to move from their list to yours, you handle the details big and small, you secure the outcome you want or need – I’ve got news for you. That’s your control talking.
One of my clients started working with me because she realized she was doing it “all” – in her business, at home, and with her family. If something needed doing, she did it. This worked great for everyone around her, but it wasn’t going so well for her.
From one point of view, it was everyone else who was controlling her. Her day, her workload, her balance (or lack thereof) of self and others.
But at the heart of it, she was exacting as much control in the ways she could. By never saying “no” she was trying to control her image and what people thought of her. Taking on anything that needed doing – controlling the to-do list – meant being the best, doing the most, and never letting a ball drop or, God forbid, show how overwhelmed she was.
She wasn’t particularly happy, she wasn’t fulfilled. She was, however, frustrated.
So we set to work.
Think about what it means to “have things under control.” It’s handled. The outcome is predictable.
Having control lets you feel safe. And we ALL need to feel safe.
The trouble is, control isn’t terribly discriminating. Too often, control picks either the wrong target or an ineffective means. Maybe things at home have gotten a little crazy, so you double down at work. Or maybe you’ve made a conscious goal of excelling in your business, but that shows up as micromanaging and ineffective leadership.
How to get control over your need for control
The need for control can be paralyzing and polarizing. Both stop you from being the person you want to be.
To stop letting your need for control control you, you’ve got to understand it. And when you understand it you’ll be able to decide if it’s serving you.
Try starting here…
1. Ask yourself, “Is it control, or is it fear?”
If you’re feeling anxious about the future, the unknown, the world… you’re not alone. You’re DEFINITELY not alone.
But if you do feel alone, you can bet your overbearing friend, Control, is willing to be there every step of the way to keep you company.
It’s time to challenge your fear. Since our controlling behaviors are often driven by fear, we need to understand what it is we’re afraid of.
For my client with the never-ending full plate, it took some time to sort out what she was afraid of. She so infrequently asked for help that she had no clear sense of how her loved ones would respond.
In her business, we had to explore a similar problem. She disagreed with her business partner at times – but wasn’t even sure how to express her differing point of view, let alone come to a consensus. The fear of stepping on any toes or damaging a relationship is paralyzing for someone who finds safety in controlling what people think of her.
The trouble is, she also wanted to be seen as a leader in the business. And to do that, you have to confidently, compassionately, and proactively LEAD, even if sometimes that means having a disagreement or knowing someone is less than happy with you.
By controlling the details of her life, and by proxy, the dynamics of her relationships, my client was giving up control of so much else. Her happiness, her time, the bigger picture of her future… Her control was putting a bandaid on her fears. But between her fear and her control, she was stuck.
Getting unstuck meant we had to work on step 2, and get those uncomfortable (but productive) conversations started.
2. Check your communication style
We tend to operate as if we can control other people with how or what we communicate.
Unfortunately, this sets us up for muddling the message from the start. My leaders, particularly, struggle here.
It’s our responsibility to communicate clearly, effectively, directly, & respectfully… It is not our responsibility how it lands for the other person. We don’t control that. Yet, we continue to take responsibility for other people’s reactions and we let that impact how we convey what we need to say.
Are you afraid of how an employee will respond to feedback? You have (at least) two options. You can try to control how they feel (and how they feel about YOU) by blunting the message. Or you can do your absolute best to clearly convey your observation, your evaluation, and your expectations.
Are you more worried about how your team feels about a message? Or whether they know what to do with it?
(And as applicable as this is to the workplace, unclear communication and confusion carry over into personal relationships far, far too often, as well.)
As Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
3. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good
The reverence we have for perfect fans the flames of our control.
Yes, perfectionism will drive you to cross your T’s and dot your I’s, but at what cost?
Your instinct for control is whispering, “Just make it a little better – then you know you’ll get what you’re after.” But when perfectionism keeps you from hitting publish on that article, from going Live on social media to build your following, from inviting that “big” client to work with you, or applying for that high-level position you’d be perfect for with just a little more experience?
That’s when perfectionism is keeping you “safe” by avoiding what needs to be done. You’re eliminating the risk of rejection… but you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity for success.
If you find yourself in a perfectionism trap, start asking yourself, how is your perfectionism getting in the way of you being the leader you want to be… how is it impacting your team? Your relationships?
What do you want instead?
Get clear on who you want to be. Identify the actions that will have you showing up as him or her every day…personally and professionally. Then do it.
Go for progress over perfection. Perfection gets in the way of possible.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”
The opposite of control (Hint: It’s not chaos)
Giving up (or just easing up) on control feels like you’re giving up your certainty. Are you inviting in chaos?
Quite the contrary, when you give up control you’re setting yourself up to gain clarity – and be able to give the same to those around you.
When my clients struggling with control focus on compassionate curiosity for themselves and what’s motivating them, they begin to recognize when control is rearing its head. We develop tools and habits to choose a different response. We keep effort and action focused on their goals, not their fears.
In their homes, this can look like the simple shift to asking questions instead of giving orders. Inviting spouses and kids to the conversation shifts the dynamic and fuels intrinsic motivation.
In the workplace, my clients who want to become ex-micromanagers work on giving their team autonomy over their day and how they get their work done. With good leadership, this pays off. Daniel Pink writes in his book, Drive, having autonomy is one of the main motivators for intrinsic motivation – essential in a cohesive and collaborative team.
The heart of trading control for clarity is having graceful accountability for yourself. That can be particularly hard when you find yourself down the rabbit hole of control.
Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t let yourself off the hook. Ask yourself these 3 questions:
- What’s in my control?
- What’s out of my control?
- What do I partially control?
(For example, if you’re a part of a team, you control your contribution/actions, but not other members which can impact collaboration, communication, productivity… and can get in the way of a project being completed on time.)
Then act and react accordingly.
Control is a reaction to something bigger that’s going on. When you start looking for what that bigger thing is… that’s when you’re really on to something.