I remember the first time I got it at age 22, a mere 4 months after I graduated from college, as a staff accountant at a public accounting firm. It was given to me reluctantly, out of sheer necessity, and 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. I got the job done (not without a lot of anxiety and a few sleepless nights, but I did it). Touchdown!
Flushed with that success, I needed more of it. Lots more.
And I got it, assignment after assignment. It was intoxicating, and liberating. It built a confidence level that eventually propelled me to another level.
The real leadership level, as a COO of a cable TV company at age 27.
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. I had to let it go.
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 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 golly, 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.
You can find out more about that in one of my favorite posts about good hiring, where I compare it to playing black jack.
PS: On December 8th I’ll be co-hosting my very first More Human Leadership webinar with Dr. Kathy Cramer of Lead Positive. It’s free, and we’ll be talking about answering The Call to great leadership. For more information and to register, click HERE. I look forward to chatting with you then!