Taming Your Inner Control Freak: Why Letting Go Can Help You Stay in Control

In business -- just as in life, we have to accept that there are going to be some things that we do not have control over. But our attitudes, emotions and behaviors -- these are the things that we can influence.
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In business -- just as in life, we have to accept that there are going to be some things that we do not have control over. But our attitudes, emotions and behaviors -- these are the things that we can influence.

Over the years, I have found that some of the most successful leaders are the ones who are able to let go of control in hard times, trusting associates with the truth and then showing them support and care, as they put that truth into action. They have learned how to "let go."

To understand the concept of letting go, it is helpful to know how much of your situation is affected by your own attitudes about control. The inability to take the time to observe and take note when obstacles arise, difficulties in trusting others, perfectionism and possessing unrealistic expectations or harboring an illusion of control, when we truly have none -- these are all prevailing characteristics of the "control freak." We have seen this inner control freak manifested numerous times by our clients, as well as ourselves.

In business, perhaps the greatest lesson about letting go occurs during a difficult juncture. In times of strong competition or economic hardship, some leaders argue they don't have the time to be discerning and circumspect when problems arise; they feel they need to take immediate action. As a leader, you can bet you will inevitably spend the time that you were reluctant to take up front at the back end, cleaning up the mess made by trying to control everything around you. Trying to control things just doesn't work. It creates anxiety, knee-jerk reactions, and nonstrategic thinking.

If you are willing to invest the time up front, give up control, be more strategic in accomplishing your goals, and be patient and focused on the outcome, you will be successful. Not with force, not with power, but with patience and yes, compassion.

It is helpful to remember that you lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control. In the long run, we are not going to change people through our efforts at maintaining power over them. We can only invite others to get on board with us by asking for their opinions and help and ultimately, trusting them to make good decisions.

How to "let go"
It can seem next to impossible to talk of letting go when associates are ostensibly unproductive and lackluster, when things seem to be falling apart all around us, and when it seems that we live in a dog-eat-dog world. From a strict management perspective, there are times when the job had to get done yesterday. The question for leaders is how to learn effectively to let go in order to motivate those around us to do their best work.

Letting go of control can be a very powerful teacher that will accomplish just that. The important message is that the leader builds confidence through honesty, trust and forgoing the idea of making all the decisions themselves.

Step 1: Tell the truth. Sounds simple, right? However, this may be the most difficult idea for many leaders to get used to. Once you learn to tell the truth, you must also learn to trust your associates with the truth and show them sincerity and consideration in your decisions. Be open about your goals, expectations for the future and be forthright about problems that occur. This will earn you respect in spades.

Step 2: Trust others to do the right thing. When associates are entrusted to do the right thing, they feel like they are an integral part of the team. They know they have a leader who has faith in them to work toward a common goal of success and, therefore, tend to focus on creative problem solving and effective business strategies. Remember that to be trusted, you must trust.

Step 3: In the face of a crisis, do not attempt to rein in control.
Instead, create a renewed focus on recruiting the strengths of the people around you. Enlist the help and ideas of your employees through round table discussions and problem-solving meetings, which help create more of a "we're in this together" mentality. Listen thoroughly to feedback and concerns.

Leaders must be able to guide their associates, but ultimately they must be able to let go and allow them to help find solutions to problems that may bring forth a new perspective for you and renewed enthusiasm from your team.

The original version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur.com Copyright 2014 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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