Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Control freaking

I was watching a television program tonight (not my favourite thing), one of those clever FBI dramas. I heart me some FBI dramas, especially the kind with David Boreanaz as the star actor. The show seems to be about a team of FBI agents and their cases; they also have a psychologist who counsels the agents.

One scene in particular showed an agent and the psychologist waiting for another member of the team to join a meeting. When he joins them, late, the psychologist says, "Chronic lateness is often used as a tool to exert control over a situation or a person."

Or something like that.

It immediately occurred to me that I am chronically late to my weekly staff meetings. I have also been accused of being a control freak. (Freak. Me. I know.)

It's true that I am often in control of, you know, everything. I am seen as controlling. But (you knew there was a but, didn't you?) I have good reasons. It is important to me to make sure things are done correctly, that mistakes don't happen if they are avoidable, and that people know what is expected of them.

To me, being in control means being responsible. It means being accountable for myself and living up to the expectations of the people who make decisions about my future. In the workplace, this means having my finger on the pulse of all the details (how's that for a metaphoric brick wall?); it means making sure everyone knows what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

I am not controlling because I want others to fail. It's not malicious, nor born of a desire to hurt or manipulate those around me. But I have discovered through my experiences that my true desire -to do a good job and maintain success- doesn't come through. When I control details I am trying to say, this is important to me, let's do a good job. But what my employees hear is, I don't trust you to do this right so I'm going to remind you for the eleventy-billionth time how important these details are.

I have learned a lot in the past few years, and one of the things I have learned is that I totally don't know as much as I think I do. I learned that certain management styles don't work with everyone, and I tried a new approach.

I experienced something very close to physical pain the first time I delegated an important project to one of my team members. I wanted to throw up and die when two hours went by and I didn't get a status update or any questions. I am not a micro-manager by nature and I hate to hover so I refrained (miraculously) from doing anything annoying or embarrassing but it was hard.

And it worked. When I backed off and just trusted that it would work out, it did. When I trusted people to make the right decisions, they did. My employees became more reliable, more accountable. They made better decisions, based on logic and fact, and their confidence in themselves increased.

Tomorrow I think I'll make a point to be on-time to my staff meeting. Because even if I don't mean for my lateness to be a means of exerting control, maybe it appears that way to the people I rely on the most.

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