Shifting from a need for control to a practice of influence.

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Recently I've been reflecting on our need for control and how to keep it "in control."

Everyone has a built-in need for control - me, you, small babies. Even as adults, this need drives us to do things to satisfy this need.

For babies it usually involves crying. For adults, we see something that we don't like or we think is wrong or doesn't meet our needs, and we want it to be "right" - meaning done our way. So we exert whatever control we can summon, and often we get our way.

While useful, this driving need for control can also get us results we don't want in one of two ways: Either we focus on things we believe we can control that aren't really important, or we set our sights below what we need to feel we can control the outcome. Either way, our need for control can cause us to miss out on the bigger possibilities that could make a real difference.

Last week I was talking with a fellow business owner who runs an amazing vehicle repair and customization shop. He was lamenting about how he's ended up taking over the front desk operations the last several months because he couldn't find anyone that could do it right. "I know I should build a system to make the right things happen, but I don't have the time and energy for that. And doing it myself saves paying another a salary, too" he shared, almost apologetically.  

We talked a bit longer about the parts of that role that really did need to be done correctly, and I asked if there were other ways he could get those parts done another way. We came up with an idea that he could invest in hiring someone for 1 month, and write down what he was doing as he did it in a spare notebook. At the end of the month, he would have a simple operations manual and hopefully someone who could follow it. 

Essentially we answered the challenge by shifting our focus from control to influence.

Here's an analogy: You're standing with a garden hose in your hand, getting ready to wash your car. If you try to completely control the water flowing out by putting your thumb over the hose end, you may succeed momentarily, but after a few moments the water will squirt out in directions you don't want. If instead you influence the stream of water by deflecting it with your thumb, you can direct all of it to where you want it to go.

So if you are getting results you don't want, where are you overcontrolling the flow? How can you instead use your influence to redirect efforts in the right direction?

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PS It's always easier - in the short run - to do it yourself. If that's what you want to keep doing in your role forever, press on. If not, you may want to figure out how to help others help you.

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

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Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.