The One Thing Every Leader Has To Give Up (After They Worked So Hard To Get It)

man trying hard to keep control (but failing)I remember the first time I got it, only 4 months after I graduated from college.  It was given to me reluctantly, out of sheer necessity.   It terrified me.

But on the other hand, it was what I wanted.  After all, I was young, and overflowing with exuberant ambition.

So I took the ball, and ran with it.  All the way up the field.  Touchdown!

Flushed with that success, I needed more of it.  Lots more.

And I got more.  It was intoxicating, and liberating.  It built a confidence level that eventually propelled me to another level.

The leadership level.

However, just about as soon as I got there, I found that it was impossible to keep it- that thing that I worked so hard to acquire, and then used so well to my advantage.

I had to give most of it up.

It was hard to do, because not only did I have to give it up, I had to transfer it to somebody else, sometimes to people I really didn’t know as well as I wanted to.

But give it up I did – and in the end, it paid off, although there were times when I really, really wanted it a lot of it back, and maybe even took too much back for a short time, before I came back to my senses.

That “it” was control.

Where all the essential tasks in your area of responsibility are performed by you, and you alone.   You put up the walls, raise the roof, and pound all the nails.   There are little, if any, outside dependencies.

That’s what I got nearly 30 years ago when, as an auditor at a public accounting firm, I was assigned a job I had to complete totally on my own.   I lived or died on how well I executed.

It was indeed terrifying, but boy oh boy, was it empowering!  I didn’t have to rely on anyone else.  And with the success that I had, I naturally started to believe that I was the BEST person to do the work – nobody could do it better.

As long as I was doing these “self contained” tasks, that kind of mental approach was fine, but as my need for control intensified, so did my desire for more responsibility – a classic juxtaposition.

More responsibility meant being a leader of a team, and that’s where the internal collision occurs.

Something had to give.  I couldn’t do everything myself anymore.  And this is the critical point in every leader’s development – the act of giving up one of the very things that got you to this point in the first place.   I was a “doer”.  I took pride in being one.

So I had to fight, with every ounce of my being, not to control and micro-manage my team as I adjusted my thinking.   I had to trust other people!   I lost some of those battles initially, and got myself into a lot of hot water by meddling too much (I write about one of my more “favorite” ones in my E-book).

At those moments you hit the crossroads – you either succumb to your control fears, and recede into leadership mediocrity, or let it go.  I chose to let it go, but in that act, there’s one more thing that you must figure out at the same time.

You MUST give that control to the right people.

And that’s another post – stay tuned for Part II on Sunday afternoon (updated 11/1/10)……


  1. says

    Ah man, Terry! Are you saying to get ahead, to become more successful, you need to give up control? That’s a tough one for someone with the nickname “the I’ll-do-it-myself girl”!

  2. says


    I think the ultimate control is the control that we extend over our own mental habits – thoughts, feelings, etc. When we get that internal control down, the external stuff is much easier.

  3. says

    Awesome post on what’s really important to give up. Power and control are the most overrated tools out there. When we hold the iron fist, our workers fear us more than they want to help us succeed. Those who are willing to give it up, actually gain more respect and trust which is more valuable than control anyways.

  4. says

    This is indeed a paradox, is it not? To be a successful leader, you must allow those you lead to be successful also. It does help the process for me to think back and remember my first faltering baby steps and see those same steps being taken by my people. My leader trusted me and my skills ans judgment, it’s only fair to keep passing that forward.

  5. Janet Ross says

    I lead a group of women as a volunteer. It has been my greatest feat ever, to equip and challenge my team to use their talents and abilities to minister to women. There are times that I have struggled with having control over every aspect of our ministry, however, I have discovered that the women who are rising up to help with this ministry are more qualified than I am and have great ideas. I am learning so much by serving alongside them. I am also amazed and sometimes scared that they appreciate my leadership….I’m not a natural born one and often times make lots of mistakes. I’m committed to developing as a leader by opening my heart and my schedule to hear others’ leadership stories, battles and victories, read leadership books, and learn from leadership conferences. There’s much to learn. And I’m thankful for the opportunity.

  6. says

    Hello Janet, Keith, Scott, and Ken – a belated thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. I’m in the process of moving right now so I’m not able to get to everything as quickly as I’d like, but I do appreciate the thoughts you all have added to this conversation about control.

    Thanks again, and all the best!

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