As an executive coach, I work with a lot of powerful women. Women who are strong, driven, and successful–most of whom have raised families while building careers. They are all formidable people. And they are almost all self-professed stressed-out control freaks. I don’t mean to say that like it’s a bad thing. Being in control has allowed them to get where they are–along with a war chest of other amazing talents and skills, of course. But at some point there comes a time when that attribute no longer serves them.
Some women wear their need to be in control as a badge of honor. Others joke about it, but shy away from discussing it. These leaders all have one other thing in common. They are tired. Tired of constantly micromanaging other people. Tired of having to follow-up on every detail. Tired of worrying about what could go wrong. Tired of spending nights and weekends trying to catch up on their own work. Tired of answering an endless barrage of emails and text messages.
None of this comes as a surprise. Many female leaders are single mothers, or they are the parent who has had the lion’s share of raising their children and keeping the family on course. They have by necessity taken control of managing the home to ensure the homework is done, the bills are paid, and the lights stay on. Let’s face it, managing a house and family is no easy feat and it takes considerable skill.
Women who had to be in control at home often transfer these feelings to the workplace. As one of my clients put it, they feel like they need to be the mom of the department or division. They believe being responsible for every detail is a necessary evil. The project won’t get done if they don’t take care of it. That new contract won’t come through if they don’t review line item. Over time, they become more of a supervisor than a leader. Most of their time is spent reviewing and directing other people’s work rather than focusing on their own performance. Slowly, the satisfaction they used to feel at the end of a day slips away. They are burnt out and unhappy with their work.
And the cause of this burn-out and stress can often be traced back to the need to be in control of–well, of just about everything.
If any of this resonates with you, you will be glad to know there are a lot of techniques that can help a control-freak learn to let go. But none of these techniques will have any lasting success if you don’t look at the why behind your need for control. Simply put, the need to be in control is based in fear. Most of the time that fear is not based on what has happened, but what might happen.
In a sense, control issues correlate with a need to protect. It might be the family, or the company, or even your reputation. You need to take care of things yourself because someone else might screw it up, and that could hurt the organization. Or you don’t have the time to teach someone how to do something for themselves–you can do it faster on your own. Or worse yet, someone might find that you don’t actually have all the answers.
And what might the benefits be if you took the time to mentor your staff rather than direct them?
Ultimately, you will be empowering your team members to think for themselves. You will build trust among your team and improve communication. You will be developing future leaders for your organization. And most importantly, you will be creating space to focus on your own work and address the expectations senior management has of you. In short, you may just find you enjoy your work again.
Changing behaviors by addressing the underlying mindset is never an easy task. Maintaining that change until it becomes habit without continual support can be even more difficult. But this type cognitive awareness is one of the best foundations for creating lasting change. As you recognize the reasons causing you to grasp so tightly to those reins, you can begin to let go.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process and you will have setbacks. However, it can be done and once you commit to the idea you will be startled by the amount of time you have to focus on your own goals. You may also be surprised at just how innovative and resourceful other people can be.
Without a doubt, learning to let go is a winning situation for everyone involved–at work and at home.