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The Illusion Of Control

by David Brock on February 2nd, 2011

Let me confess, I’m a contol freak.  It bothers me to think that “being in control” is an illusion.  As sales people, business professionals, managers and leaders, we are always trying to control something.  As sales people, we try to control the sales process—yet it’s the customer that is in control of their buying process.  As managers, we may try to control our people—but we really never can control them.  We have a reluctance to do something new–unless we can be in control.

In reality, there is little we control–perhaps how we spend our time, our integrity, our values. (Sometimes I wonder about my time.)

Despite the fact that control is an illusion, we can never escape our accountability. 

We are accountable for producing results—no excuses!  In sales and business, we don’t get “A’s for effort,”  we are expected to produce a result.  That new product we were expecting to help us meet our quotas is late—that’s tough, we still have to hit the number.  Not enough leads, no excuse, we still must meet our commitments to achieve our quotas. 

Over the past couple of years, some have tried to escape their accountability–blaming their failure to achieve results on the economy–on factors outside their control.  In the mean time, there were a number of people quietly sorting things out, not diverted by the economy, but coming up with creative strategies for their business.

We don’t have control–but we still have to persevere.  Whether it’s exercising influence on all the people involved in the decision, whether it’s finding a way to eliminate obstacles, to reduce barriers.  It may be finding ways to reduce risk–to our customers,  or the risk inherent in the strategies we are pursuing.  We don’t have control over our people, but we can coach, and develop.  We can make sure goals and objectives are aligned.  We can make sure people understand they are accountable.

Control is an illusion, but accountability is always there.

  1. Hi Dave.
    As Stephen Covey shares in his book 7 habits of highly effective people (a book Anthony recommended today on his blog) Stephen discusses your circle of influence.

    Within the circle are things you can control. Without are the things you can’t.

    For most people our circle of influence barely stretches without our own mind.

    Our job is to work on increasing our circle of influence.
    This is done by focusing on things within its circle. If you focus on matters you cannot control you lesson your circle, if you instead focus on making the best of the situation and adapting, you slowly build your influence until it includes more and more. Giving you more power and control over your own life.


  2. That’s right, at the end of the day is either I got the order or I didn’t. Either I feed my family or,,,,no, no options here; I’ve got to book the order. As a sales manager, I am an accountable to my sales team budget, it does not matter if they do not know how to close, or present, etc…I made the decision to lead them, therefore I am all over training them, drilling on the basics of selling, and also teaching them how to by example, I am maniac a following up starting with me, with them and with our customers.

  3. I would agree that control over others is an illusion. I would assert three things:

    1. Control over yourself is really the seed which grows great leadership to begin with. You also cannot DEVELOP people. They develop themselves.

    2. Let your people do as they will. Set the example, and the right people will follow you. The people who do not follow, probably shouldn’t.

    3. Leadership is often misunderstood. People do not follow leaders. Not really. They follow their own dreams and compulsions. A leader cannot control these factors in any way. Not through training, not through accountability. They can however, develop themselves to a high level. People see success, and they want it. Success can wear innumerable faces, but people know it when they see something they want. What brand of success does your company offer it’s workers? Showing them this by living it yourself, and making it accessible to them (what we like to call “training, accountability, etc”)…that is what attracts the right people to your organization.

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