The illusion of control

The illusion of control

The topic of women and power was brought up in conversation several times this past week. Power, in general, is one of those topics that can be controversial because everyone has an opinion about it.

What is power, when it comes to female leadership? What is power, when it comes to women in business? What is power, when we’re trying to have a more human conversation with one another in the political realm while reaching across racial, economic or gender lines? Is power the same as control?

Oprah Winfrey describes power as “having an impact with purpose.” In other words, when a person has a purpose, especially a noble one, he or she has the power to impact or influence others. Seems pretty simple.

We all look up to people who are driven by a sense of purpose. Those people don’t give in when faced with challenges, but persevere, thanks to a vision that drives them. Those people impact thousands with their selfless acts of sacrifice. We admire them, and are inspired by them.

The names that are often remembered when we think about people who made a big positive impact on the world and sacrificed their own needs and sometimes their lives: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, and Mother Theresa.

But we don’t need to be as well-known or self-sacrificing to influence. We can all inspire others, even if on a smaller scale. If you’re a business leader, company owner, teacher, or leader in your community, you are in a great position to be an inspiration to others. 

For women, this is especially challenging because we, in general, are not brought up to be loud, to be at the forefront of the crowd, to be bossy (although we can definitely be) and so the tendency is for us to think, “Oh, leadership is not for me. I’m not the right person to lead.”

What we need is to change our perspective of what it means to be a leader.

In this video, Simon Sinek shares a story about a woman he knew who was given a chance to be a leader in the Air Force. She did her homework and knew all about management and leadership. She was an A-type go-getter and thought she would fix the problem she was hired to fix at a base in Iraq. She threw all her effort into it, tried and tried, but nothing she did was working. Her reports didn’t take her seriously, they didn’t obey her, and it was a bad situation.

About six months in, this woman thought: “I guess I’m just not good at this. I’ve tried everything and nothing has succeeded.” She gave up trying and thought to herself: “I have six more months in this position so I may as well try to let my team enjoy the time they have here. To ensure they get the most out of their day.” After that, a surprising thing happened: Camaraderie increased, moral increased, trust increased, performance increased. In other words, they were inspired.

Clearly, control hadn’t worked. Which makes sense. Think about it, would you be inspired by someone who only cares about control? Whose actions are all about limiting and controlling you or the situation?

Probably not. But would you be inspired by someone who shares their own struggles, admits they don’t always know the answer, looks to their team for answers, trusts their team to know the way forward, and collaborates with you to make sure everyone feels respected and cared for?

As Sinek says: “It’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s about listening.” Leadership is an act of service. There’s an empathy that goes along with inspiration.

Like the woman in Sinek’s story, I thought that success came from doing “all the right things.” From the moment I began my self-employment journey, I was on a mission, thinking: “Ok, now I need to figure out how to be a business owner so that I can be successful and can make this work.” I was like a person rushing out of the starting gate with fear chasing me down the track the whole way. And it didn’t work. Success eluded me, because I’d forgotten about my noble purpose.


Then I just stopped trying to control the outcome. I said to myself: I’m here now, I have all this freedom to do what I want and I can still keep trying to be self-employed, but why not have fun while I’m at it? I gave myself permission to only do things I loved.

I quit all the activities “to grow the business” and decided to write a book. When the savings ran out, I got a job, and after 4 months in that job I realized I still wanted to work for myself. Which is what I’m doing now, even though it’s still a challenge. The difference is that I’m more confident and certain this is what I’m meant to do.

What inspires others is when they see you take a leap of faith to do what you believe in. And although you might land on your ass after you leap, what they want to know is how did you respond? Did you give up on your dream or did you push forward, with the same strong belief that you’re doing it because it’s who you are? 

As my favorite Marianne Williamson quote points out: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Shine your light. There’s no need for control. They will follow.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
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Small business support is caring

Following your dream

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