Lose Control and Like It – 4 Ways to Handle Responsibility and Control

You really don’t have as much control as you think you do.

Leaders like to think they’re in control of a lot of things, because after all, that’s why they’re in charge, right? They’re responsible for making sure the work gets done correctly, on time, and on budget. So if they’re responsible, then dog-gone-it, they’re going to be in control! The reality is that responsibility and control are spread among all the team members you lead, and effective leaders learn to distinguish when they need to assume responsibility and control and when it needs to be left to the team member.

I recently read Losing Control & Liking It, by Tim Sanford. His book is specifically about parenting teenagers (I have two boys, 19 & 15), but speaking from experience, leading and managing people is often like raising teenagers so the principles definitely apply!

Sanford explains that when we look at our interactions with people and events, we can split them into two categories: What you can control and what you can’t control. We’re defining control as that which you have direct and complete power over. You may be able to control certain aspects of situations or influence people or circumstances, but when you consider that definition, you really only have control over yourself—your actions, attitudes, values, emotions and opinions. We like to think we have control over our employees, but that’s just an illusion. They are in control of themselves.

Another way to categorize our relationships with those we lead is by responsibility: What you take responsibility for and what you don’t take responsibility for. Responsible is a compound word: response-able, meaning “able to respond.” The only things you are able to respond to are those that you legitimately have ownership or control over. Friction develops in our relationships when we try to take responsibility for those things we don’t control or when we choose to shirk our responsibilities for those things we do control.

When you overlay these categories of control and responsibility you have a grid of four ways of interacting with others regarding issues of control and responsibility

TOSS – You could describe TOSSers as lazy, irresponsible, untrustworthy, avoiders, deniers, or blamers. These are folks who would rather “toss” responsibility to someone else, rather than assuming responsibility for behaviors or outcomes that are under their control. This is probably the most unhealthy of all the four styles and this type of behavior causes chaos and discord in organizations.

HOLD – HOLDers take responsibility for what is under their control. Trustworthy, honest, authentic, reliable, and dependable are all words that would describe these people. This is a healthy way to interact with others over issues of control and responsibility. No blaming. No excuse making. No shirking of responsibilities. Relating in this manner breeds confidence and trust in your abilities and in others.

GRAB – In an effort to control the uncontrollable, GRABers choose to take responsibility for people and things out of their direct and complete control. Micromanager, manipulator, intimidating, co-dependent, or martyr are all adjectives that describe a person who uses this style. Leaders often fall prey to this style of relating because they think they can “fix” people or situations. GRABing control may result in short-term wins, but over the long haul it stunts people’s development and creates a state of learned helplessness.

FOLD – FOLDing is a healthy way of relating to others regarding control and responsibility. When you practice this style it means you mind your own business, you’re honest with others about what’s your responsibility and what’s theirs, and your trustworthy enough to be counted on to respect the proper boundaries of control and responsibility. Relating in this style means you fold your hands and let the consequences fall where they may, even if it may be painful to stand by and watch.

Your goal as a leader is to influence your people, not control them. Provide them with the necessary training, tools, and support to enable them to be in control of achieving their goals. More often than not, those who are in control of their work will accept responsibility for what they produce. If you find yourself dealing with people who choose to “toss” responsibility of their shortcomings to others, resist the urge to “grab” control and try to fix the situation. HOLD your ground or FOLD your hands and let others learn from their experiences.

14 Comments on “Lose Control and Like It – 4 Ways to Handle Responsibility and Control

  1. Excellent post, Randy! This is a great way to think about things in a simple, powerful way. Having two teen sons, I think about these things as well and realize that we have to let some things go. Similarly, in business, we cannot control everything — and shouldn’t either — so we need to find the right balance of responsibility. This matrix facilitates that balance. Jon

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    • Thank you Jon! If you haven’t read Sanford’s book, I highly recommend you pick up a copy. As a father of teenage boys, I’m sure you’ll find it very helpful and practical as we parent (lead) them in their journey of becoming mature, responsible adults.

      Take care,

      Randy

      Like

  2. I think in business what has lead to most confusion and over-control issues is the term “hands-on” management. Most seem to think that this means you have to be out on the floor doing the work of supervisors (heaven knows what they are then supposed to do, but I do know that what they then actually do is meet around the water fountain and discuss how their manager is unable to control their staff and instigate staff against management). The intention of Hands on was simply that one should get a grip on what is going on, and a response to the prevailing laissez-faire approach. These people should read books like “The One Minute Manager – Ken Blanchard” and “Who’s got the monkey? – William Oncken Jr.”

    Absolute control is abviously not possible, but luckily, there are only a few things one needs to keep tabs on to monitor the health of an organisation (much like one monitors a patient by looking at vital signs). Identify these, set standards, delegate responsibility, monitor performance, give feedback and take corrective action. Voila! Control mastered.

    Thanks for reminding us Randy!

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    • Great points Daryl! True wisdom is learning to identify the most critical areas that you as a leader need to “control” and finding creative ways to stay on top of those measures without micromanaging or thwarting the initiative of others.

      Take care,

      Randy

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  5. I absolutely believe this point of view. I feel that most people do better when they realize they can only control their own thoughts, feelings, responses, beliefs, habits and actions. Once you master what you have control over, you greater influence on others and situations within your sphere of influence.

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    • Thanks for your comments! I agree that life becomes a little simpler with less drama when we focus on the only thing that’s truly in our complete control: our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

      Take care,

      Randy

      Like

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