Control What You Can

Control What You Can

November 22, 2023


Have you ever been in a business situation that made you so frustrated that you wanted to pull your hair out? Take a restroom break for the remainder of the day?

If you are like most of us, you have. And if you haven’t, count your blessings.

I can still remember one of the worst—and the action that saved the day.

The managers in the company had been called together to come up with a solution to a problem that was affecting morale, productivity, and revenue. We started with the usual brainstorming exercise to put every possible solution on the table.

So far, so good.

But then, we had to narrow the choices down to three. And that’s where the trouble began. Try as we might, even with a skilled facilitator, we couldn’t decide where we should focus our efforts.

We spent over an hour talking about a few options and nothing seemed to fit the bill. People held fast to their preferred choices, but just could not persuade others that those choices would bring about the required change.

She was dressed in business clothes, but that facilitator should have been wearing a magician’s cape and carrying a wand. She guided us to a solution as magically as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Here’s how.

She drew this table on the whiteboard.

   CONTROL                                               INFLUENCE                                         NEITHER


She then asked us to group our proposed solutions into those three categories. What could we as managers control? What could we influence in a way that either solved the problem or moved it in the direction of control? What could we neither control nor influence?

It surprised us – and maybe it will you, too – that we were spending most of our attention on things that fell into that far right column. No wonder we couldn’t agree! Who would want to choose a solution that they had no power to implement?

That wise facilitator suggested that we spend the remainder of our time on the options in the control column and come to consensus on which of them to implement and how we would do so.

It’s no exaggeration to say we all breathed a big sigh of relief and that we felt better about ourselves, each other, and the problem.

Seems simple. And it is.

But sometimes, we lose sight of this wisdom amid pressing problems or disagreements.

Put this table in your management toolbox. Take it out the next time your team can’t seem to come to agreement on something.

Who knows? Maybe something magical will happen.