Forget Trying to Control People

Leaders worry themselves to death over how to get people to do what they want them to do.  In my book Conversations with My Old Dog, I write in a series of poems about the “talks” I used to have with my aging yellow lab Lucy.  The poem titled Control includes these lines:

We people spend much of our time on the illusion of control —
we order our lives and try
to order the lives of others.
However, we learn — as with our dogs —
that we may get folks to sit
but never to stay.

I offer the same advice to the people I coach.  It’s difficult enough to control your own behavior; it’s a losing proposition to try to control others’.  Learn to appreciate their behavior instead.

The Playbook

  • No matter what your title, treat everyone with respect.
  • Take the time to engage people; ask questions and let them ask you questions.  Give honest answers.  Listen to their responses.  It’s better when you can hear from others what they think should be done.  Collectively, you can try to control the outcomes.
  • Be willing to accept the mood and behavior swings of others.  They, like you, are human.
  • Don’t overestimate how well you know even the people closest to you — your spouse, your children, your parents.  No matter how familiar you are with them, you cannot control them.  Learn to enjoy the surprises rather than treating them as a sign of irrationality or rebellion.
  • Keep in mind that groups are even more complex than individuals.  Appreciate the good things that can emerge when everyone feels empowered to speak.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back or make a note of the times when you manage to treat the behavior of others in a more positive way than you once would have.
  • Work at controlling the things you can control: Eat healthfully, exercise regularly and seek sources of inspiration to boost your emotional well being.
  • At best, you can only control one person: yourself.

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