As leaders, especially in sales, we often want to be in complete control of everything around us, so that the activities and results are predictable and everything is linear. As we know though through experience, even when you plan for every possible and conceivable possibility and outcome, Murphy’s Law will always be lurking somewhere and present you with a challenge that you did not expect. How you respond to that challenge will determine the level of success you and your team will achieve.
For many leaders, when something happens that is outside of what they expected, they can quickly react to it, and often do this in a heightened emotional state, not giving themselves time or opportunity to consider and analyse what happened – they simply ‘pounce’. The result can often be suboptimal, which can have a domino effect and flow on to other areas. Great leaders on the other hand take some time to analyse what has just happened so that they can consider the best way to respond to the event. The result is a more considered response and often a better outcome.
So what is the different between the 2 leaders? The leader who reacts quickly to the event without considering their approach often does so out of the feeling that they want to remain in control. Their need for control is so strong that they allow themselves to emotionally react to an external event, believing that this will give them control. As we know, their need for control often results in their reaction being out of control. The leader who takes some time before responding may appear to be out of control and the event that just happened may well be out of their control. However, through considering their response first, including the realisation that the event may have been out of their control, what do they achieve? Control. Control of their emotions, control of their attitude and control of their actions. But, they have no need for control – they are more than comfortable in their ability to be able to handle whatever event or challenge is thrown in front of them.
So it sounds counter intuitive, but here’s the thing. In order to maintain control, you need to let go of the need for control. All great leaders have this unique ability and they consistently achieve outstanding results. Here are 5 core areas to consider, embrace and implement:
- Knowledge – many leaders who have the need to be in control, also have a thirst for knowledge – they are always searching for new knowledge, believing that knowledge will give them power and give them control. It is true that knowledge is powerful, however, only when that knowledge is applied. So by all means continue to learn and take on new knowledge, but apply it immediately. This can be a challenge for many, because the outcome may not be predictable and you may feel as though you are not in control. This is awesome and exactly how you should feel – this will help build your leadership muscle and develop a very powerful resource – experience. So constantly seek to build more knowledge and ensure you apply it immediately.
- Uncertainty – leaders with a need for control also have an inbuilt need for certainty – they want to know exactly what the state of play is and what tangible strategies they can apply to a particular situation. Whilst this approach can be comfortable for some, it is stifling for others. No matter how well you plan and forecast, things will happen that you do not expect, plunging you into a world of uncertainty and when that happens, you must have the ability to handle it, and lead the team effectively. Great leaders do this – no matter what the level of uncertainty is within an environment, they are 100% certain of themselves and their ability to handle any level of uncertainty that is thrown at them. They have confidence, and through this confidence, they have control. The difference is they do not have a need to be in control. In fact, they are at their best when things are out of control!! How do you currently handle uncertainty?
- Vulnerability – a lot has been said in the leadership space (especially in Corporate) about vulnerability and how it can often be seen as a sign of weakness. Some even believe that a leader who shows a level of vulnerability, such as acknowledging that they do not know something, diminishes their leadership and their ability to influence. I believe the opposite is true. A leader who is able to acknowledge that they have some ‘weaker spots’ and don’t have all the answers, is a great strength. They acknowledge that they are on a learning path, just like everyone else, and that they will never arrive – there is always another level. Showing vulnerability as a leader demonstrates a human side and indicates to the team that they do not have to have all of the answers, and that success is a process and not an event. Vulnerability is almost the ultimate ‘letting go of control’ and through this, great leaders can bring their team closer together. Where and how can you begin to show your team a higher level of vulnerability?
- Self Belief – on the back of vulnerability, great leaders have an incredible level of self belief. This is by no means arrogance or fantasy thinking where everything is just beautiful and perfect. It is a very solidly grounded belief that no matter what happens, what is thrown at them, they have the belief that they can handle it. There is a calmness and groundedness that gives confidence to the team that there is nothing that cannot be overcome. This self belief is in the language the leader uses, they way they walk, how they stand and how they communicate. They have no need for control because their level of self belief provides them confidence that they can handle anything. How would you describe your level of self belief?
- Contribution – a huge difference between the leader who needs to be in control and the one who doesn’t is their focus. The leader needing to be in control more often than not is focused on themselves, whether it be on what they can achieve, or how they can minimise the impact of events on themselves. They are very inwardly focused and often find themselves ill equipped to deal with big challenges because they are unable to see the big picture. Great leaders on the other hand have an outward focus, they are looking for how they are able to make a contribution to others. They recognise that a key pillar of great leadership is servitude to others, meaning they cannot make it about themselves, and therefore must give away ‘control’. One of the most effective ways to expand your leadership and influence is to seek opportunities to contribute to others. Make it about them and not about you. You will ‘relinquish control’ but the funny thing about that is that you will also gain greater control. It is amazing.
I’ve worked with many leaders who believed they needed to be in control and maintain control, in order to be effective leaders. In the majority of cases, they ended up being so ‘wound up tight’, that the slightest challenge would unwind them and they lost control – the very thing they were clinging to. So if you find yourself in a leadership role where control is important to you, here is a challenge. Let go, grow accustomed to being uncertain, apply knowledge immediately, even imperfectly, be vulnerable and embrace not knowing something, develop a strong self belief and focus your attention on how you can contribute to others. You will be amazed at what happens.
To your continued sales leadership success.
If you want to know how you can better lead your sales team, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Darren specialises in working with Sales Leaders to create, implement & embed a sales leadership game plan that will deliver outstanding and sustainable sales & revenue results. He is also the founder of the Australian Sales Leadership Network, a LinkedIn Group for sales leaders to share insights, strategies, resources and best practices, in order to build high quality, engaged and successful sales teams, delivering profitable and sustainable sales results. To apply to join, please click this link.