Several years ago, I went
on a weekend spiritual retreat. I had avoided going on this retreat for two
years. Instinctively I knew I would be challenged about my need for control,
so I avoided the inevitable by not going. I entered that retreat thinking to
myself, "Patti Hathaway, you have really got yourself together. You have built
a successful business. You have a wonderful husband and two adorable sons. You
have managed your life well. What if you get challenged on this control issue
and let go? What if you let go of managing your life and you lose everything
you have worked so hard to gain? Could you live with yourself if you lost it
all?" Those thoughts terrified me. Still I went.
For most of the women on
this retreat, it was a simply positive mountaintop experience. As a result of
my faulty thinking, I spent most of the weekend in the valley fighting for control
over my soul. Could I give up that control? Near the very end of the weekend,
I finally learned how to let go, to let God take over the reigns. It did not
come easily or without a lot of personal pain. But what I did experience was
a tremendous sense of relief, release, and peace.
To Control or Not
I learned an important lesson
that weekend. Giving up control isn't just a one-time event. For each of us
in a change situation, dealing with our control needs will be ongoing. Organizational
change is about what we control and what we don't control. It is about a struggle
every single day to focus on the right things. Each of us can be a winner in
change and feel a sense of personal power if we focus on certain things.
The Winner's Grid
There are basically three
things we can focus on in change situations: (1) The things we Can Control,
(2) The things we May Have Influence over, and (3) The things we Cannot
The Winner's Grid provides
a map for taking more personal power in change situations. There are two ways
we choose to act when it comes to the things we Cannot Control: (1)
Just do it! by taking action on those things; OR (2) Let it go.
Let's examine the far right
quadrant. In change situations, we primarily tend to focus on the last category:
Cannot Control. Here are some examples of things that might belong in
the Cannot Control category: company profit and loss; the market/economy; policies
and procedures; management decisions; staffing levels; our supervisor (although
I coauthored a book entitled Managing Upward so I disagree with this
one); the business plan; time; the future; the weather.
If you are taking action
in areas you cannot control, you will feel frustrated and angry and become like
the aging athlete or Hanger On. Hanging on is a term used in sports
for athletes who hang on beyond the time they really should have retired. It
happens not only in sports, but even in the workplace. We hang on to old vendettas,
hang on to the old way of doing things, hang on to the fact that we cannot control
certain things but we sure are going to try. As a result, we become angry, frustrated
people. We are angry at the system. We are upset with the organization. We are
frustrated with our boss. We're carrying a grudge against our co-worker. We're
angry because we've chosen to hang onto things that we have no control over.
You can gain release and
relief if you let go of situations and circumstances over which you have no
control. You will experience firsthand the relief of a Graceful Exit.
I had to learn to take a Graceful Exit at the retreat and let go of
the supposed control I had over my life. What does the word "Exit" mean? It
doesn't mean to jump the organizational ship, although I think in some cases
that may be the best choice if a person cannot let go of the things they don't
control. What is meant by Graceful Exit is to let go gracefully. To "let
go" of the areas over which you have no control.
The word "grace" is not
used much in our vocabulary. Grace means "reprieve; a temporary exemption."
Grace must be given by someone, it cannot be yanked from them. When we take
a graceful exit, we voluntarily give up that which we cannot control.
We need to learn how to gracefully exit and let go. In order to move into the
future, we need to let go of the past. What have you been hanging onto? What
is something that you need to gracefully exit out of in your job? You
can't move forward into the future if you're still hanging on to the past.
It's like blowing up a balloon
and then letting it go. When you release a balloon, you release and relieve
the pressure. The same thing can happen at work when we recognize what we don't
control and let go of our desire to control it. With organizational change,
as with my control concerns at the retreat, it will probably be an everyday
struggle for us to let go. Our challenge is to only "own" and take action on
those things which we can control.