Breaking a Control Addiction

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.u0-neu-d3-58aa59a38996a847a3197a2ef80d21c3^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!


Are You Present as a Project Manager Even When You’re Gone?

Do you sometimes feel that if you missed just one meeting with your team the entire project would derail? It may feel good that the team can’t get along without you, but that’s not healthy for the project. The following are some ways you can influence your team even if you’re not there in person. You can Read More about How Project Management Can Be Like Playing Cards.

Dirk was larger than life. He was a helicopter pilot in Kuwait during Desert Storm and helped evacuate a number of troops from life and death situations. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and built like a rock. When you sat with him in his office, he would pull a set of weights out from under his desk and work out his biceps. His hair was slicked back, he dressed immaculately, and you felt the need to salute him when you passed him in the hall.

As President of the company, his presence was felt everywhere. When he walked into a room, the volume of conversation would go down a notch or two.

Did I mention that he was everywhere? The company held a customer appreciation soiree a number of years ago. Where was Dirk? He was at the end of the buffet table, serving up helpings of asparagus that he nestled right next to the chicken and rice. This ensured he had the opportunity to meet and greet everyone at the dinner.

Do you know what was even more noticeable about Dirk? It was even more evident when he was NOT there. As much as his presence was felt when he was in the room, it was missed even more when he wasn’t.

Are You Missed When You’re Gone?

How about you in your role as a project manager; are you missed when you’re not there? Here’s a simple test to take: arrive late to a standing weekly meeting. It could be a weekly executive debrief, a weekly sales meeting, or even a status update. How many phone calls, texts, or emails do you receive that ask, “Are you coming?” “Where r u?” or “r u joining?” Two or three? Good, then you’re missed. None? You may have a problem.

It’s important to be missed when you’re gone, because people will remember to bring up your biases, opinions, and viewpoints about a matter. For example, someone may interject that they know you wouldn’t like something if it was done a certain way, or, that you would consider it important to finish a particular project in a certain manner. You will be represented even if you’re not present.

It’s the before-you-die equivalent of “he would have wanted it this way.”u0-neu-d4-edbf2d9488f230d927d1775e5c672a39^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

How to Be Present When You’re Not There

In order to ensure you are missed, you need to be OVER-present when you are there! Sure, you can have just enough presence to last that particular meeting you are attending. But, that’s not enough. That presence will be used up the second you walk out the door. You need to have an extra amount of presence that can be stored up for those times that you may not be able to attend. Below are four ways to store up some extra presence.

  1. Stand for Something – Your name must become synonymous with standing for something. Maybe the thing you stand for is impeccable quality. Or, you may have a strong desire to make sure processes are followed. Or, your reputation may be to take care of the customer at any cost. You never deviate from your position when it comes to one of these circumstances. See the best construction management software at http://www.builderstorm.com/free-construction-management-software/

For example, let’s say you couldn’t make it to one of the weekly meetings where a decision was being made on how to complete a project faster. One idea thrown on the table is to leave out a particular step that everyone (except you) doesn’t consider to be that important. Someone pipes up and says, “Yeah, we can try that. But you know how [insert YOUR name here] is about following the process we’ve all agreed to. I think we should look for a different solution.”

See how that works? People know what you stand for and respect you for that position. So much so that they’ll even serve as a proxy in your behalf when you’re not able to attend.

2. Fix What’s Not Right – Another way to make your presence known when you’re not there is to fix things when you are there.

What does this mean? Let’s say somebody came in with a deliverable that missed the mark. Yes, they worked on it long and hard, but it missed some key components. You may reason that it’s OK to let a few things slide every now and then. But, that’s a slippery slope. Rather, you need to go back to the person and make sure it’s done right.

Is this easy to do? No. You know they worked hard on it and spent some long days putting it together. You know they have plans with their family over the weekend. You also know that the deliverable is not right and it’s due on Monday. You need to make the tough call and have the work done right.

It’s a painful decision in the short-term. However, it will pay huge dividends in the future when people ask themselves what they think will be acceptable to you. They’ll answer the question the right way without you even being there!

3.  Adhere to Your Own Standards – What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t set high standards for other people and then not follow them yourself. That type of behavior is hypocritical. “Do as I say, not as I do” has far reaching consequences that will haunt you throughout your career as a project manager.

Your team and resources watch what you do. They notice if you arrive early and stay a bit later than everyone else. They also notice if you try and sneak in quietly an hour late and hit the road early.

True, most professionals are monitored by performance rather than time served. However, your team needs to be aware of your presence and how seriously you take your job when you are there. The residual effect of your presence will still be evident when you’re not there.

4.   Speak Up and Have an Opinion – We’ve all sat through plenty of meetings where someone is laying out a new idea or concept to the team. You know for a fact that Phil, the marketing guy, doesn’t agree with the concept, as you and he just talked about it the day before. He thinks it’s a bad idea and that it won’t fly. The presenter then gives everyone an opportunity to ask questions or raise any issues.

You look over in Phil’s direction for him to say something. Phil is looking down at his digital device pretending as if he didn’t hear the question.

Oh, he heard the question. You know he did. The problem is that he doesn’t like conflict or to take a contrarian position.

The meeting wraps up with an acknowledgement from the presenter that since there are no questions or issues, the plan will move forward. Meeting adjourned.

Phil takes you aside the second you get into the hall and says, “You know that’ll never work, don’t you?” Why didn’t he say something about that just 60 seconds earlier? Because he was too mousey to speak up and have an opinion.

Do you want your presence to be felt even when you’re not there? Say something when you are! Ask questions, get clarification, agree, disagree, append, amend, expound and pontificate. Do something! Get involved! Let people know you’re present and accounted for, and you’ll be present and accounted for even when you’re gone.

All of us can’t be like Dirk. He was one of a kind and larger than life. But, the next time you find yourself working out your biceps while you offer people asparagus, think about what Dirk was able to accomplish. People would consider him in all their decisions, even if he wasn’t there in person. Apply the suggestions above and you can do the same!