The Illusion of control

This is something very common for all of us founders right, we are “achievers”, “creators”, “futuristic” and have this laser-focused Vision on what we want to achieve. To achieve we need to desire and make a certain outcome possible.

If you bootstrap your company, for your vision to come alive, you need to “control” the operation, the sales, the product development, marketing and finance, so everything to be just the way you want it to be. There are enough uncertainty, ambiguity and surprises, controlling will limit the risk for our business to fail.

Being in control means to foresee risks, need to think about everything and have solutions for everything.

Why Let go of control?

All of this consumes energy and depending on your personality it will create pure stress and pressure. When you try to control someone or something, you get controlled. Your well-being depends on the person or the object you want to control, you give them the power how you feel. They can decide if you have a good or a bad day, you are sad or happy, satisfied or unsatisfied.

Aren’t you being a victim of the person or the object you want to control?

As a leader, you might set up rules and regulations for your employees. When someone breaks these rules and regulations, how do you feel? Do you get angry, disappointed or even upset? Even though you seem to be in control, you are actually the one being controlled. Their behaviors determine your mood. Of course, regulations are necessary, but how you react to them and how they make you feel, fuels your feeling of wanting to be in control.

Understanding why we want to control

When I was promoted to lead a bigger group, it also came with the need to fly regularly to US, Japan and within Europe. Sometimes I flew every week around the globe, which you can imagine is stress in itself. I entered the airplane palms are sweating, heartbeat through the roof and cramped into my seat for 10-12 hrs, terrified! Long story short, through some help from my therapist, I realized that it was my urge to control. In a plane, I had no control of what is going to happen and I feared about the worst outcome. When I learned to let go and not to worry, I could even start enjoying my flights. I’m still not a fan of flying but I’m not terrified anymore.

Our brain can’t distinguish between real threats and made up threats, so our urge to control is rooted in fear.

  • We are afraid of the unknowns and uncertainties
  • We have a lack of trust
  • We are insecure or have self-doubts
  • We are afraid of making mistakes and the judgment of others
  • We desire a perfect outcome

Whatever it is, there is an underlying fear or emotion. Ask yourself “What are you afraid to lose from letting go?

Start with small things

These urge to control is not developed over a couple of weeks, it is a deep-rooted desire in you. Possibly, starting in your childhood or your mom/dad made this to be one of your highest needs to be satisfied. Great news, if you learned something you can unlearn it.

So start with small things first, be spontaneous once a week in your daily routine; in some meetings listen, make notes and limit your speak time to 10min; if you have a tidy desk, sometimes leave it messy. It takes time but like everything you will get better bit by bit.

If this is not something you want to pursue, what about you trying to delay your urge to control. Instead of immediate action delay it by 1 hour, write it down, make yourself a note but delay it. Instead of reacting and giving out the solution immediately, wait and ask the person to try to find a solution and come to you later. Check how this feels for you.

Cherish surprises

I used to over plan every aspect of my work day, my calendar was 100% filled, my to-do list full of tasks leaving me with little flexibility for surprises. Today, I use the OKR (Objectives and key results (OKR) is a goal-setting framework for defining and tracking objectives and their outcomes.) system, this gives me room and flexibility. Look for methods that let you focus on your long term goal and gives you flexibility for the surprises running a company.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” Allen Saunders

Expectation management

You work hard to achieve your dream and you have a responsibility to run this company, people expect you to perform, you expect yourself to do the best possible, so you have to be in control of things otherwise………..

There is nothing wrong with having expectations, but if you put “expectation” on a pedestal you might lose sight, that every expectation comes with a possible disappointment.

For example, You set up a regulation to be more climate-conscious in your company, but you realize your employees are not following the regulation, that will disappoint you.

Whenever, you have expectations you want them to be met, to avoid the negative feeling of disappointment.

List of things

If you are feeling out of control or stressed, list the things up. Draw two circles and put the things in and out of your control accordingly. Focus on the things in your control and forget about the others. Sounds very easy, but usually we fall into the trap “I could influence it”. Influence can be possible but also not possible – if you are prepared you can put energy into this.

My absolute favorite

The work from Katie Byron, where she gives you 4 good questions to think about. She has a worksheet on her website, which guides you through the process.

In a nutshell – When you are in the urge of control, isolate the thought you have.

1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

4. Who would you be without that thought?

5. Turnarounds – Turn the thought around. Is the opposite as rue as or truer than the original thought.

If you give up the thought of not being of control, is liberating and will free up energy and gives you freedom. What it will absolutely do is it will help you to change the perspective and putting you in a different mindset.