Less Control is More Control

June 3, 2018 Open Leadership No Comments

The urge to control can seem like an addiction. Though it is obvious that an addict, on the contrary, has lost all control!

‘Knowledge is power.’

It has always been like that and it will forever remain so. What is changeable is the meaning of these words. Does ‘knowledge’ solely contain information or does it also offer a wider insight? And power: does it imply direct control over people, in a style of ‘Do this now!’, or does it hold more meaning?

Ego wants ego-control, but a human does not only consist of ‘ego’.

Mere direct control is therefore only part of a much greater possible whole. An example. At this very moment I am watching my fingers as they quickly type these words. However, I do not possess control over each movement of every little muscle. If someone asks me directly, I barely know how the letters are positioned. Studies show something that is even more peculiar: typing fingers already reach for the right letters even before the writer consciously knows what word he will use next! So here I lack a direct ego-control… which is exactly why this typing goes smoothly. Less control is in this case more: I-as-a-whole-person have better control over my computer.

This is important for every leader. Complex technological developments make it all the more relevant. Hectic changes will allow less and less that one predominately relies on ego-control.

The modern leader has to go more broadly, and thus be more ‘open’.

Employees are increasingly required to take independent decisions. Technology, like social media, makes information fly around the world in such a way and with such speed that no one, by far, can make this work in the most optimal way without letting go of control. Ideally the borders hereof are continuously under pressure.

But this is how, for many, bogeyman ‘stress’ is triggered. Logical, because:

‘Stress’ means per definition that the need for control is bigger than the control itself.

With yet another additional angle: playing out on the level of perceptions. One obtains the following ‘stress-equation’: <perception of the need for control> MINUS <Perception of control> = Stress.

A perception-bound diminishment of direct control leads, according to the equation, to more stress. So it is important to not force openness. One can, in a more well-reasoned way, work on a decrease of the excessive need for control. I think this is an exercise that every leader has to put himself through time and again. For newer generations, this openness is hopefully ingrained. For current leaders, it sometimes means they have to bite the sour apple. But look at it this way:

‘Letting go of control’ is easier than ‘giving up control’.

Do you feel the difference? It is a difference in… control: in the first case you have to; in the second one you may/can/do it/let it.

One can get addicted to control.

Take for example chronic binge eating. By eating, one gets the feeling of control: over the direct hunger feeling and ‘feeling less good’. Eating is therefore stress reducing. Underlying, one loses control over one’s weight and eating (or not eating) when one wishes to. One ends up in a vicious circle of taking and at the same time, fundamentally, losing control. This type of circle forms the basis of an addiction.

Even the urge to control-as-a-leader can lead to such a vicious circle.

Holding on to direct control provides an instant good feeling, but does not satisfy the deeper level of ‘control’. The latter can even decrease. This way the need grows bigger, and so does the thriving for more control. The circle of addiction is now complete. A leader who sees his role primarily as ‘controlling’ can, by the necessity of letting go, wind up in an identity crisis, which is unnecessary:

Let go of the control which you need relatively little of and you will be able to keep track more easily of the control you do need.

Let us presume the following: you are driving a car on an icy road. You start slipping and are suddenly gliding towards a tree. By throwing the steering wheel into the opposite direction (direct control), you lose control over the bigger whole. On the contrary, by analysing the entire situation you can try to get some grip on the road and therefore avoid the tree as well. So you sacrifice some control… and you gain a significant amount of control instead. Important enough? What one can also notice in these times, is that we do not evolve towards a decreasing need for leadership (like some pretend) but instead evolve towards a considerably increasing need for, that is at least, real Open Leadership. This is:

Not only focussing on the wheel inside the car but taking into account the wheels underneath the car as well.

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