Control the Controllable…

As for the rest, wear a bulletproof vest

Do you control your own destiny or, as the ancient Greeks would have you believe, is it all up to the Fates? How much do you get to decide about what happens politically and emotionally in your work environment? Have you ever found yourself secretly (or not so secretly) saying, “poor little me against this big, huge organization…I’m powerless to do anything about it?” The perception and realities about workplace power and destiny control make for a fascinating study.

“Destiny”, according to the Oxford Reference English Dictionary is “the predetermined course of events.” Are the dramatic and traumatic events that happen in your workplace predetermined, leaving you powerless to move forward or, is it possible that you have more power and more control than you realize over your workplace destiny?

If you have been with your current employer five years, ten years, or more, you’ve probably witnessed multiple reorganizations, downsizings, policy changes, shake-ups and make-ups. And through them all, there are always fretful and frightened employees, from frontline staff to senior management, worrying about how organizational change will effect their professional and personal lives. Many have confided in me over the years (during workshop breaks, and at the end of keynote presentations) saying, “Am I on the list this time? Or am I going to be saved and have to pick up the shattered pieces of the shell shocked, survivors? How am I ever going to effectively manage and lead twice as many people? How will we ever efficiently and effectively apply these ridiculous new, flavour of the month, polices? Did the organization really think these changes through? I have a well respected position in this organization but will anyone else want me…out there? I feel totally powerless and out of control and I’m going crazy waiting for the other shoe to drop! What can I do?”

Sometimes you may feel that you don’t control much, at all…not even over your own moods! Research shows that we can’t even get a mood to stay still for more than about fifteen minutes, before it goes gallivanting off in another direction! So how do you refocus and reframe your experience of what happens, or may happen, to you at work? Even if you don’t have 100 per cent control over anything that happens at work, try these strategies for increasing your sense of destiny control:

1. Examine and redefine who and what you think you control:

Ask yourself, or facilitate your team, to brainstorm answers to these questions:

  • Who do you control (at work and/or elsewhere)?
  • Who don’t you control?
  • What do you control?
  • What don’t you control?

At first glean there are always some debatable responses. Allow the debate to take place in the large group debrief rather than in the actual brainstorming process. Whether consensus is reached, or not, look for similarities and differences between the responses for each of the questions. Participants typically discover that the things they don’t control involve others, or things outside of themselves. The things over which they have at least some control, if not total control, involve only themselves.

2. Know the differences between control, influence, persuasion and inspiration:

If only you really could control another! If only you had a remote control unit for all the people with whom you had to daily interact. You could rewind situations you’d like to do over, pause a difficult or challenging colleague or customer while you took time to think of the best response, mute those who were driving you crazy with too much talk, or better still, eject them altogether! Unfortunately life does not come with a built-in remote control unit for all…and even if it did…everyone else would have them, too, so you’d probably have a stale mate. Give up the notion of controlling another. It doesn’t work. What you can do is learn greater and greater skills of I.P.I (influence, persuasion and inspiration). Viewed through the eyes of negativity and prejudice, developing and applying I.P.I skills is manipulative. Viewed through a positively focused lens, applying ever increasing I.P.I. skills, is a demonstration of personal mastery at the art of interpersonal communications. Every organization fantasizes about a complete staff with supreme interpersonal communication skills.

3. Think “Me Inc. Think”

Organizations desperately need employees who clearly understand the value of their contribution–it elevates the individual’s sense of empowerment, and when that is demonstrated, it acts as a guide post for others to do the same. Refer to the questions about professional self-worth in my October, 2001, premier issue of “Working Wisdom”. Remember to acknowledge and declare exactly what you do bring to the workplace table. Play a mind game with yourself. Pretend that you are self-employed even if you never really wish to pursue this focus for your living. Think “Me Inc.” think! Make believe that you work for yourself and that one particular client (your employer) demands so much of your services that you do not have time for other clients. In your own mind’s eye, you will elevate your employment status from that of employee to empowered partner. Always think of yourself as working for yourself, even if you never really do, because, in a way, you really are always working for yourself…no matter what!

4. Look Forward

It’s common place for many of us to go kicking and screaming into the new and the unknown. It helps to trust in the old saying, “When a door closes, somewhere a window opens.” The past can teach lessons but you move to the future. Create ceremony for closure of what’s leaving. Identify what’s leaving your work world, and move away from it…on your own steam. See the value of what’s coming next and move towards it. Remember, when on rough seas, a stabilizing strategy is to look at the horizon. Is there something you or your team are holding on to right now? Something that’s going away and never coming back? If you do find yourself being dragged into the future unwillingly, while tearily looking over your shoulder singing “The way we were”, consider creating some formal closing ceremonies. Such events can help you and your team get back to controlling more of your destiny, through a forward facing focus.

Facilitate answers to these questions:

  • What are some of the classic situations in life that call for “closure / new beginnings” ceremonies? eg. birthdays, graduations, coming of age parties.
  • What are some classic situations in your work life / your profession, that call for “closure / new beginnings” ceremonies?
  • What is disappearing at work, right now, that is causing you to feel a loss of power over your work destiny?
  • What closure events or “ceremonies” would be appropriate during this transition phase, so that you can look forward to your professional future in your organization, or elsewhere, with a feeling of greater empowerment?

Attitude and sense of destiny control are close relatives indeed! “What I cannot control, I can’t control. We controlled what we could control. I can’t ask for a better day than that”, so said Canadian pair skating champion and Olympic gold hopeful/silver medalist David Pelletier to CBC, after witnessing the controversial marks he and partner, Jamie Sale, received for their spectacular and flawlessly executed long program, on Monday, February 11th, at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. Even before the incredible days to follow, in their own mind’s eye, and in their hearts, they knew they were golden.That knowing and professional attitude at living, went far in influencing the control they felt over their own destinies. As things have turned out this week, they got their gold after all! And so it is with you. Control the Controllable and as for the rest…wear a bulletproof vest! Be a professional at working, and living…always. We all work for ourselves, all the time…and have more ability to control our experience of our destines than we may think. And, in the end, controlling our experience of what happens to us (at work or elsewhere) may very well alter our bottom line, real life results.

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