Consciously Taming Our Inner & Organizational Control Freak

CONSCIOUSLY TAMING OUR INNER & ORGANIZATIONAL CONTROL FREAK

During workshops, coaching, personal discussions – you name it – the topic of control rears its ugly head. I’m always amazed at the responses when I ask these questions—

ME: What is the one thing you can control?

CROWD: Yourself!

ME: How many of you have had this experience: “If only other people would be different, my project would be so much easier and go way better?”

CROWD: [laughter, all hands raised]

WE REALLY CAN’T CONTROL VERY MUCH

This is becoming more intense with advances in technology. Every industry is affected, and with so much change, it can feel like we are spinning out of control. Our mind wants to be in control, to predict, and to know what’s going to happen. 

In order to thrive and to be an effective leader, we have to understand our relationship to control. Here’s why…

The two main stressors are loss of control and lack of predictability. When you read this, you are probably thinking, “Life is full of this” – it’s the new norm.

Herein lies our opportunity to evolve by understanding the biology behind stress. As Leaders, you must have a point of view and consciously walk your employees through this process.

STRESSOR #1: LOSS OF CONTROL

Loss of control is fascinating. While there is very little we can control, we try to control everything.

The nuances of this really show how goofy we are as a species. The exercise of control is not critical, only that you believe you are in control – this is when the nervous system rests.

Let me say it again—

  • If you actually HAVE control over something, but you don’t believe it, you will trigger stress.

AND

  • If you actually DON’T HAVE control, but you believe that you DO, then you won’t trigger a stress response and, therefore, your natural defenses won’t engage to protect you.

With regards to the workforce, control is more crucial than demands. Consider these stress levels from high to low with regard to jobs and control over any process concerning work expectations, flexibility amenities, and authoritarianism:

  • Low demand, low control job (assembly line)

  • Low demand, high control job (middle management) – this category creates the most health issues

  • High demand, high control job (upper management)

Now, ask yourself: “What can I control in my life, work, or anything?” Not much, right?

STRESSOR #2: LACK OF PREDICTABILITY

Predictability lessens stress. When we have information about what’s coming, we are comforted. Similarly, by knowing what’s coming, our stress is reduced by knowing what is not coming.

What’s even more remarkable is even when everything is okay, a loss of predictability STILL causes a stress response. Yes – EVEN IF EXTERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES ARE OKAY!

This clearly explains why people would rather shock themselves with an electric shock than sit silently. When we sit in silence and stillness, we don’t know what’s coming, hence, a fear of the unknown. Whereas, an electrical shock is known.

Here’s a workplace example…

If a co-worker regularly and consistently “flies off the handle,” this is stressful – but it’s predictable. If you have a co-worker who sporadically does the same, this is MORE stressful, because it’s unpredictable, and this is the type of experience that leads to health issues.

With information we can predict, the nervous system knows which coping strategy is likely to work. When we can’t predict, this sends our nervous system into a frenzy.

Now, ask yourself: “What can I predict in my life, work, or anything?” Not much, right?

THE SOLUTION

With any education, there is an opportunity to evolve. Simply, stress is fear, and fear is a biological event. Become a master of your stress, and you will be healthier, more fulfilled, and show up more fully.

Leaders, you MUST escort your people through loss of control and lack of predictability by explicitly acknowledging this phenomenon and setting the tone of calm and presence.

The combined set of skills in my book will help you overcome these barriers to living and leading full out.


My book Evolution Revolution: Conscious Leadership for an Information Age is your handbook on stressors and fear response. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6, Stop Surviving and Start Evolving:

“There are reasons to feel scared or afraid in the workplace. These situations are not life-threatening, and survival is not at stake, but we need to consciously recognize the psychosomatic experience of them and pay attention when we act out or shut down and go into one or more of our conditioned fear responses: flight, fight, freeze, or faint.

The brain and nervous system are hard-wired for natural protective responses. These responses show up not only when we see a bear in the woods, but also where we don’t need them. There is no level of better or worse response here. All are equally ineffective.” ~Abigail Stason, Evolution Revolution.