Many managers believe that it is their responsibility to exert as much control as possible over their employees to create the desired results.  In reality, is it truly possible to control another person?  Ever dealt with a toddler having a melt-down in a store?  How’d it go when you tried to control that situation?

The truth is that even when dealing with full grown adults, we can’t control other people.  They are free to melt-down, act out and think for themselves, even if we don’t want them to.  When it comes right down to it, the only person we can control is ourselves.  This is not always the easiest idea to accept, but I see it as an incredibly powerful position.  Here’s why.

First, when I get it that I can only control myself, I stop wasting time trying to control other people.  My father-in-law likes the phrase, “You can’t teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and it frustrates the pig.”  This is exactly the situation you are in when you try to control someone else, everybody ends up unhappy.

Second, now that I know I can’t control other people, I am free to think about what I can do to influence them.  Because that’s the real talent, isn’t it?  While we can’t directly control other people, we can, often very effectively, influence them.  Let’s go back to the toddler melting down in the store, the parent may not be able to force the child to stop making a scene, but they may have some pretty powerful ways to influence that situation and get things back on track quickly.

This is a great brainstorming opportunity.  Look around your organization and think about all those areas where people aren’t doing what you want them to do.  Consider all the things you’ve done to try to alter their behavior.  Then brainstorm ways that you might begin to influence this situation and get things moving in the right direction.

John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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