Your Sales Culture is Killing You – Part 6 (The Illusion of Control)

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

Managers and salespeople claim how they’re always creating solutions for other people when in fact, they’re just trying to control the outcome. Trying too hard to control the outcome actually prevents you from achieving the results you want. Here’s why.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith Rosen
What is your relationship with control?

An interesting question. I’m going to go on a limb here and suggest that you have never asked yourself this question. So, what’s the answer?

“If you mean I’m a control freak, then the answer is a resound yes and proud of it.”

A common response from both salespeople and their managers.

It’s no secret that managers and salespeople are under intense pressure to perform. And when you’re accountable for certain results, it’s human nature to want to do everything you can to control as much as you can in order to create the outcome you want. Unfortunately, this breeds an atmosphere of distrust and fear.

More Control, Less Freedom

Here’s an interesting paradox. It’s the paradox of control.

The more you try to control things, even people, the less freedom you create for yourself.

Paradoxes such as this illustrate how the very actions we take to generate desired results, often slow us down and diminish the quality of the outcome we want to achieve. (Another paradox!)

While we may strive to maintain control over our lives, our careers, certain projects or tasks, even over other people in order to produce desired outcomes, this quest to control creates rigidity or resistance to change. We feel that if we control as much as possible, it limits risk and error.

This lack of flexibility and the stagnation of creation actually generates friction in our lives, especially in the face of adversity. Rather than delegate or be open to new and better alternatives, we keep things close. Instead of collaborating, we find ourselves competing.

The result? As we continue to put our energy into preventing change or staying within what we know what is safe and comfortable, control becomes the very thing that limits growth and innovation, inhibiting the ability to create or recognize even better opportunities.

As we let go of the need to control, greater possibilities unfold naturally.

How can you determine if you are attempting to control more than you are actually able to? Ask yourself the following questions. Please note, these questions are not to be taken lightly. I’d suggest putting some time aside to really digest the question and process a truthful answer so that you can create the breakthrough moment in your development and evolution!

15 Questions to Determine If You’re a Control Freak

  1. How are my beliefs, efforts and actions affecting my life and career? (Enhancing? Consuming?)
  2. Is this how I want things to be for the rest of my career?
  3. Do I have an attachment to my own agenda and the outcome?
  4. What am I afraid of?
  5. What is getting in the way of letting go?
  6. What am I trying to avoid?
  7. What result am I pushing for? What result am I hooked on achieving?
  8. Is my perfectionism getting in the way of exploring other possibilities?
  9. Do I have a difficult time delegating and letting go of certain tasks? Why?
  10. Am I inclined to jump in too soon when I sense someone else is going to threaten the results I need?
  11. When working with cross functional teams, am I comfortable letting others take the lead?
  12. Do I trust other people and their abilities? Why?
  13. How does my desire to control things impact the relationships I have with others?
  14. What assumptions am I making that’s preventing me from letting go? Am I taking past experiences and projecting them as a future expectation? (“Well, the last time I was in this situation…… I don’t want that to happen again!”)
  15. While I’m clear about what I DON’T want to happen (fear) do I have a clear vision of what I DO want to happen and the goal or outcome I’m looking to achieve? (If you are clear about what you don’t want, but you’re not clear about what you do want, then your goals and dreams don’t stand a chance!)

If you’re being honest with yourself and find that you may have some issues around letting go, then consider what would be possible if you responded to the events in your life, both in action and opinion, in the exact opposite manner in which you would normally respond to them? In other words, what would really be possible for you if you did let go and open yourself up to what others can contribute? (If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you may remember the episode where George made better decisions by doing the exact opposite thing he would normally do.) Of course, this doesn’t mean turn a blind eye and toss everything into the wind to see where it blows. But if done correctly, you can create the space and environment for others to contribute and leverage their talents and strengths, while mitigating any risks or errors that concern you.

Once you challenge certain beliefs, stories and assumptions that you may have initially thought of as true, you will start recognizing new possibilities that you never noticed before.

The Only Three Things You Can Ever Control

While there are many things we try to control, in truth, in truth, there are only three things that every human being has any real control over. They are:

  1. Your actions
  2. Your re-actions or responses to situations and your experiences
  3. Your thoughts, beliefs or attitude (even assumptions!)

That’s it! Everything else that we think we can control, the things we complain and worry about; is an illusion.

The real opportunity here, as well as irony is, most of us spend our time trying to control the things we can’t rather than focusing on mastering the things we can; the three areas that we truly do have control over.

Think of the countless hours, days even years wasted trying to control the things you can’t! Here’s a defining opportunity to shift your focus to what you can impact and influence in order to achieve even more.

The Illusion of Control

The myth is, the more we attempt to control things, the more we can eliminate our greatest fears from coming to fruition.

We try to control as many things as possible to reduce risk. And by definition, risk is synonymous with danger, hazard or threat. We do this to create the illusion of some level of control over people, results and outcomes. It sounds great in theory but that’s not how life works.

We believe that the more we attempt to control our risks in any situation, whether is the risk of losing a sale or the risk of having our children grow up without the right guidance, ethics or values, we would be able to then keep that which we fear most from happening, at bay.

Unfortunately, this paradigm and philosophy comes at a cost. You see, if you are trying to control, for example, a conversation, an interaction with a direct report where you are trying to drive them to the outcome you want in a situation, or even a sales call and the result you want with that customer, there are two things that you cannot be doing. You cannot be creating and you are certainly no longer actively listening. When you focus on you, you’re no longer focusing on the other person.

The ability to be creative is one of the most important attributes of a sales leader. After all, it is your job to create new and better solutions for your customers or direct reports.

Conversely, the quest to control creates more of what we don’t want; mediocrity.

Control or Create – Choose

If you’re wondering about the relationship between control and creation and how this impacts you, here’s why these two forces are in an eternal state of conflict.

  • Control is an attempt to generate predictable, expected results. Creation is open to new possibilities and generating unpredictable results, which often lead to breakthroughs.
  • Control is rigid. Creation is fluid and evolving.
  • Control is based on achieving a certain outcome in the future. Creation, as well as active listening, can only happen in the present moment.
  • Control is focusing on a known outcome. Creation has no agenda to the final outcome, which opens you up to recognize new and greater possibilities.

As you can see, if you are attempting to control the outcome or the sales call, then you cannot be creating new possibilities in the moment. As such, if you are focused on what you want to control, then you will miss out on uncovering or recognizing a new and better opportunity to turn a prospect into a client. Conversely, if you are in a constant state of creation, then you are going to allow new possibilities and solutions to surface naturally.

Finding the Right Balance

Both coaching, as well as selling can be defined as the art of creating possibility. Salespeople are responsible for the creation rather than the controlling of solutions when it comes to engaging with prospects and customers. Subsequently, if you are a highly creative salesperson, then there is no need for you to attempt to control the outcome.

“Wait a second, Keith. If I’m in a constant state of creativity, don’t I need some structure to support it? I mean, should I toss out my entire sales process, routine and goals?”

Not at all.  And yet, another great example of getting caught up in Absolute Thinking, which is something I discussed in Part 5 of this series. Remember, just like any belief or process, the proverbial pendulum can swing to the extreme on either side, rather than balance what may be perceived as two conflicting truths. You certainly want to honor your daily routine, your sales process as well as your goals.

However, you are not going to do so to the point where they have your gripped and are controlling you. Said a different way, when things change (whether it’s the market, your career, your prospects, your product or service, a relationship with someone and so on), that’s when you want to be flexible so that you can adapt to change and adjust your processes and strategies accordingly.

Yes, this is another coaching moment and another opportunity to amplify the impact you have on others.

This is something we all get challenged on every day. In any interaction or conversation, there’s always a point where we are at choice to either forge ahead with our self-obsessed agenda or take a step back and ask ourselves, “What new possibilities could be created here if I suspend my agenda for a moment, put aside what I think is right and best and just allow myself to explore them?”

After all, there’s some fear in being flexible and opening yourself up to new opportunities, especially if you’re a control freak! As a recovering perfectionist, I know this is one of the reasons why I work so well with salespeople and managers! I can identify with what they go through, since I’m continually going through it and coaching on it myself.

It’s always more comfortable to stay in the realm of what we know and what we’re comfortable with. For many people, the unknown can be intimidating, even risky!

But if looked upon logically, this is the space where breakthroughs are created and where individuals continually uncover and reinvent their competitive edge.

To truly generate unprecedented results, be mindful of this universal truth. Being flexible is more powerful than being in control.

Photo Credit: Luciano Zanardo