What You Can’t Control

It may seem counterintuitive at first, but an important part of being a leader is actually relinquishing control. Leaders may have more responsibilities than others in an organization, but that does not mean that they will have more control. In fact, everyone has only three things that they can control

  1. Whom you trust (and what you trust them with)
  2. Your actions and choices
  3. Your attitude and perspective

That’s it. Those are the only things you can control. There are some notable items left off that list that we often try to control even though we really can’t:

  • What responsibility other people give you
  • If others will like you
  • How people respond to the responsibility you give them
  • The onset of emotions

Part of taking ownership of what you can control involves recognizing and letting go of what you cannot. 

Whom You Trust (and what you trust them with) 

I regularly babysit a four-year-old girl, and sometimes I trust her with small tasks like picking up toys from her floor or helping me bake cookies. I can control what I trust her with, but I cannot control what she does with that responsibility. For example, if I ask her to pick up toys while I wash the dishes, I cannot control whether or not that task will be completed when I come back to the room. 

Because I cannot control what someone will do with the responsibility I give them, it is important to use the Freedom V. This ensures that individuals are being given appropriate levels of responsibility according to their ability to self govern. As this child grows in age and maturity and proves to be responsible with the small tasks I give her, I can begin to entrust her with incrementally larger responsibilities. 

Your Actions and Choices

One of the things you cannot control is the onset of emotions. You can control what you do once emotions arise, but whether or not they arise is not up to you. We talk about this dynamic with the Proper Use of Emotions tool. Oftentimes people will Feel-Act-Think, where they go ahead and act on the impulse of the emotion, instead of Feel-Think-Act, pausing to consider why that emotion arose and what it tells them about the situation. 

Emotions are important; they can alert us to potentially unsafe environments and let us know when we should get away. That is an example of a rare case when you may not have time to pause and think for very long. But most of the time, you should choose to take a moment, even in a heated conversation, and consider why a certain emotion is coming up to get to the root cause. 

Your Attitude and Perspective

Many of you have probably experienced an overbearing manager or parent who gives you a responsibility or task but then watches over your shoulder as you do it and immediately jumps in if there’s anything they would have done differently. This person has not allowed you to have control over your own actions and is using a very strict directive leadership style, likely on someone farther up the Freedom V who should have been given more trust and responsibility. 

This is an example of a place to exercise control over your attitude. In fact, responding with a positive attitude will elevate your Referent Power, which will help when you choose to address this conflict and ask them for more trust and responsibility. 

Trying to hold tightly to things that are out of your control will lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. You may feel worried about outcomes or disappointed in the actions of others, especially at first. But relinquishing what you cannot control will ultimately lead to greater peace and allow you to focus your time and attention on what is within your control. 

Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.