Control or let go

by Professor David Clutterbuck

People often struggle to get the right balance between doing things themselves and delegating to others. Here are some simple questions to manage the conversation about this:

  • What do you have to control?
  • What do you feel the need to control?
  • What can you let others control, with minimum anxiety on your part?
  • What do you want others to control?
  • What do you want to take back control of?
  • What could you let go of entirely?

For each answer, ask also:

  • What is your evidence for this?
  • If you had more confidence in other people, would your answer be the same?
  • If you had more confidence in yourself, would your answer be the same?
  • What would it take to change your level of confidence in others?
  • What would it take to change your level of confidence in yourself?

A useful analogy lies in Spring cleaning. Imagine you have a whole week to de-clutter your home. Starting with any room and working through to wherever you store things to get them out of living space (your attic, junk room, garage, basement or whatever), what would you: 

  • Throw out without a second thought
  • Throw out on the grounds that “If it hasn’t been wanted in the past x years, it won’t ever be wanted”
  • Agonise over throwing out, because it has sentimental value
  • Flog on e-bay or elsewhere (find it a good home, where it can do someone else a good turn)
  • Keep in case
  • Keep at all costs

 Now apply the same thinking to all the responsibilities you have taken on.

Another useful technique is to make a list of all the tasks you do and the decisions you make in your work, in two columns. In a third column, write down Who could do near enough has good a job as me of this (or better)? In a fourth column, What motivates me to hang on to this? In a fifth column, estimate how much of your time is spent on this activity. Finally, in a sixth column, answer the question What’s the worst that could happen, if I let go of control of this?

Raising awareness of what we seek to control, and why, creates the opportunity for significant changes in behaviours and habits.