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.