I had a terrible addiction to control. It became more insidious and obvious to me as each year passed, but I didn’t know what to do about it. The following article sheds some light on how far I went and what I did to break free from the clutches of what was a debilitating habit.
I have a confession to make. I’m a recovering control-aholic. There, I finally said it. Now everybody knows! For years I hid this terrible addiction to control and I was pretty good at it too. I would blend in with everyone else in the office and smile and laugh right along with them. But, deep down inside I wanted to control the conversation, the jokes, and who was laughing and who wasn’t. I wanted to control who did what on my projects, exactly how they did it, and exactly when they would get their job done. Creativity and flexibility were two words that weren’t in my vocabulary.
It wasn’t healthy, especially in my role as a project manager. One day I just bottomed out. I knew I had hit an all-time low when I asked our QA manager for the test scripts they were running on the new software code. She asked why I would possibly need the test scripts. I came up with some lame excuse that I was putting a project documentation repository together and this was all part of the final deliverable.
Truth be told, I wanted to go through the test scripts myself later that evening. There I was…all alone in a building that was still, quiet, and dark except for the splinter of light that shone through my office door. I was feverishly going through each and every test script to verify that QA had done their job. I trusted no one and felt as if I had to follow up on each and every detail to the nth degree.
Most people remember when their addiction began. I do, and recall it was innocent enough. Many years earlier, someone in my company made an honest mistake on a calculation on a spreadsheet they submitted to upper management. I didn’t get a chance to look at the spreadsheet before it was submitted and the wrong number reflected poorly on me. I subconsciously started to develop the need to control what others around me did in order to prevent that from happening again.
Alone, bleary-eyed and head in hands
Here I was, a decade later, all alone and bleary-eyed in an office with my test scripts, software application, and can of Red Bull beside me to get me through the night. My head was in my hands as I reflected back on the pain I had inflicted in others over the years by being so controlling. Oh, how I wish I could turn back the hands of time and let the size 12 point bullets on the presentation slip through rather than demanding they be 16 point. Or, that it would have been okay to start the meeting at 8:30 (like they wanted) instead of 8:00 (like I wanted). But no, it was too late. I had to have absolute control over those around me and now I’m suffering the consequences of my own actions.
I made a decision that night in my Red Bull induced stupor. I needed to change my ways. I needed to trust in other people again. I needed to…, I needed to…, I needed to relinquish some control! Yes. that was the breakthrough I made on that sullen night. But how was I to accomplish it?
Fortunately for me, and others around me, I came up with a program that would help me give up that control I so desperately thought I needed. The following suggestions may work for you as well if you are a recovering control-aholic
6 Steps to Overcoming a Project Management Control Addiction
- Reach Your Breaking Point – Nothing is going to change until you are alone in the office at 2 AM in the morning running through test scripts and asking yourself, “What the heck am I doing?” In order for you to make changes in your freakishly controlling life you need to reach rock bottom. You may be so far gone that you need your colleagues to perform an intervention on your behalf. Perhaps they’ve already tried. Have they told you to leave your phone home and not check your email when you’re on vacation? Have they told you that “they’ve got this” – interpreted as “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing—”? Have you lost good people because they can’t take your stifling management style?Only when you’ve admitted to yourself that you have a problem can you begin to make a change.
- Realize People are Just as Capable as You Are – There are a lot of smart and capable people in this world and you are just one of them. That means others around you are going to make spectacularly good decisions and pull off amazing things…just like you do. It also means that people are going to make some horrifically bad decisions or fall short of the goal from time to time…just like you do. Get your head around the fact that things can go on without you, and surprisingly well.I always had the delusion that whenever I left a company, they would go down in flames because I was no longer there. I figured I would have to put “no longer in business” on my resume, next to each of the companies I had left. Guess what? They’re all still around and doing just fine without me. Why? Because they have capable people that know what they’re doing and that make things work.
- Give People an Entire Task – Now that you understand that people are talented and skilled, give them a whole task to do. Don’t divvy it up into a bunch of small chunks and have them check back with you ever 15 minutes for more direction. This may be appropriate if you are working with an entry level person, but most projects are staffed with professionals. Have enough faith in people that they can take sizable portions of responsibility off your plate and run with it. Let them know you are available for any questions or issues that may arise. Other than that, let them go.
- Provide Enough Direction (in Writing) – This is more for you than it is for them. Once you’ve given them the entire task to complete you can chronicle your direction by putting it in an email. This will help make sure you didn’t miss anything. It also gives you a level of comfort that they have all the information they could possibly need to make their task a success.
- Let Them Go – You’ve now set someone up for success. Let them go and succeed. Chances are they’ll come back with a 95% success rate and the 5% that may have gotten a bit off track (just like it would have happened with you) really doesn’t matter that much anyway.
- Check in With Them Infrequently – You read that right, check in with them IN-frequently. This will help cure your control issues. When that desire to pop around every 4-8 hours just to see how things are going comes, resist that urge. You’ve given them direction, you’ve provided it in writing, and you’ve opened the door for them to get back to you with any issues. Move forward with the assumption that everything is running smooth unless you hear otherwise. Feel free to check in every now and then but do so in a manner that doesn’t make them think you don’t trust them. “Do you need any help from me?” is always a good question to ask.Checking in with them infrequently will also allow you to check in on your other obligations frequently. Go home early to be with your family or spend time with your friends. Control freaks can easily set themselves up for burn-out and in the long run nobody benefits.
A final word of advice for those who are starting out on their less controlling journey…give yourself a day or two of wiggle room at the end of the task. Again, this provides you with a higher level of comfort than anything else. If things don’t go exactly as you planned, you have a bit of time to get the results closer to what you would like to see. You’ll quickly find that there’s nothing you would change and the need for this buffer will disappear. Are You Present as a Project Manager Even When You’re Gone? visit http://www.sixsigmais.com/are-you-present-as-a-project-manager-even-when-youre-gone/ to get more information.
Are you a control-aholic? The first to recovery is to admit you have a problem. Follow the steps above and you’ll free yourself from the bondage of this terrible addiction!