I’ve been called a control freak.  If you read my DISC profile, you’d understand why.  My husband to this day will quote me during my moments of control freak-ness, saying, “You’re not picky, you just know what you like.”

It’s true.  Many moons ago I frequented a particular steakhouse because I liked the size of their salt crystals.  Salt is the only thing I put on my steak, and I liked theirs.  They were larger than the average salt crystal.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

Truth be told, I am a control freak when I can be, but if I can’t be, I’m the most easy-going person in the world.  Case and point, if you and I went out to dinner, you’d never hear me say a word about the salt.  Nor would I complain when I got home about the salt.  Really, I promise.

So what does this all have to do with leadership?  Well, a lot.  It turns out that I’m not the only one who likes to have control of things.  Everyone does, even babies.  There are scores of research studies that highlight the beneficial effects of having control, from increased activity in the brain to behavioral changes.  Violence in prisons can be tied back to a need for control in an environment where nothing is in their control.

It’s no wonder that the issue of control is a critical one for leaders.

Like all humans, employees need to feel in control of their world, too.  Granted, this exists in varying degrees for each of us, but it does exist nonetheless.  It’s just a matter to thresholds.   A critical part of a leader’s role is to find ways to give employees control and minimize the ways in which it is taken away.  Command and control organizational cultures are now viewed as archaic, while collaborative leadership and even servant leadership is the new trend, and there is evidence of success within these structures.

But how can one manager make a difference in a corporate culture that might not support the idea of turning over control to the team?  Here are three ways you can.

1.) Learn about Your People

What makes them tick?  Where is their threshold for control (or lack of)?  How are they most likely to react when under stress?

There are two ways you can help facilitate this process: the first is to spend time with them.  Real, honest to goodness time.  And not “We’re working on a project together”, or “It’s time for your annual performance review” type of time.  Go out to lunch.  Spend some windshield time with them, with no agenda other than to learn about them, and then reciprocate by sharing a bit about yourself in return.

Second, use assessments.  But only good ones. Our personal favorite is the TriMetrix DNA (send us a note if you’d like a sample).  This simple, easy-to-use tool will give you and your team great insight into behaviors, motivators and competencies that you may see among your employees.  It transforms judgement into understanding and builds a skill set that enables you as a leader to adjust your behavior to meet the needs of your team.  This tool will help you know how much control a person needs to have at home and at work, and this is important because knowing is half the battle.

2.) Be a Coach Instead of a Director

Instead of telling people what to do all the time, help them figure out what to do for themselves.  This requires that people have the ability to make good decisions and does not relinquish you as the leader from responsibility for the outcome.  It does, however, give people more control of what matters to them.  And it develops people in the process.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Not everyone is a candidate for coaching, but quite frankly, if the non-coachable have worked for you for more than just a short time, you might want to ask yourself why he or she is still on the team.  For a great read on the whole-team benefits of coaching and delegation, check out The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey [LINK: http://www.amazon.com/The-Minute-Manager-Meets-Monkey/dp/0688103804].

3.) Communicate Regularly

Let people know what’s going on, from company news to performance review.  Surprises equate to loss of control for many people and unless it’s a surprise bonus, most people don’t like surprises at work.

The most common pitfall in this area centers around performance reviews.  You simply can’t let people know only once a year how they are doing and expect to sleep well at night.  Even if your official documented performance review schedule is only once a year, there’s nothing preventing you from having more frequent conversations with your team about their performance.

Communication requires both parties to be involved, and just like we say in the training world “telling ain’t teaching”, we could just as easily say, “content isn’t communication.”  Communication requires two engaged parties – it hasn’t been communicated until the other party has heard it and understands it the way you meant for it to be understood.  So take responsibility for clear communication.

You can make a difference.  You can raise healthier babies, reduce violence in prisons and change corporate culture one choice at a time.  All of those things require us to be leaders.  And in the words of John C. Maxwell, leadership = influence.  Before I sign off for the day, there’s one final point to make about control:  The only person you can control is yourself – everything else is the art of influence (leadership) successfully executed.

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