Fear of losing control is a funny thing. It does not seem to correlate with how much control you have in the first place.
I find that leaders who have in fact not a lot of control, but who think this is not the case, fear loosing control and talk a lot about it. Typically my teams encounter this in the context of a Viral Change™ programme, in which the engine of change is in the grassroots, and leadership is distributed in the form of highly connected ‘activists’ who are shaping the organization in an orchestrated, bottom up, peer-to-peer way. The contrast with a traditional ‘change programme’ of top down communication type, with lots of cascading workshops through the hierarchical lines, is striking.
Very often leaders feel that, in the old fashioned top down way, they are in control, and that in Viral Change™ they lose/may loose/will lose control. This is actually not a hard one for us to redirect because it’s exactly the opposite. The only control you have in top down systems is the number of workshops, the number of people attending and the content. Once this is done, you close your eyes and pray. You have very little control on what happens next, even from the time of people returning to the car park.
In the Viral Change™ antipode territory, the pool of highly connected people engaged and leading, working with us, (activists, champions, connectors) are so close to the ground on a day to day basis that you know what is going on, by the minute if you wanted. Paradoxically, Viral Change™ provides higher levels of control than the traditional top-down change systems.
But this is not the topic. The topic is how many leaders kid themselves thinking that they have great control in the first place, something that they fear may lose, which is unsettling to them. But to lose something you have to have it first, and, believe me, this is not always the case.
Control is often, in fact, ‘an illusion of control’ only fueled by the times you see an input and output working. You asked people to attend a seminar, they did. You prepare a communication package and digitalised it in powerpoints, and it has been cascaded down to all. Is this control? Only of the information tsunami. Try the same with changing behaviours.
My rule of thump is to always ask my clients to reflect on ‘how much (control) they have’ before addressing the ‘how much they will loose’. Never allow the conversation into losing without knowing how much is in the bank.
A wonderful way to stop worrying about losing control is to realise that you don’t have much in the first place. Then to figure out the level of control ‘required’. This is a conversation for another day.