I learned a difficult leadership lesson while serving as a sergeant in the United States Army. Although I had already served as a manager in a fast food restaurant, the US Army was my first real test as a leader. Serving as a combat later in a special operations unit of the United States Army showed me the challenge of control as a leader. If you are a leader, my guess is you’ve already experienced this challenge as well.
Leaders are in the people business. Regardless of the industry, all leaders ultimately influence people by providing purpose, direction, or motivation. Here is where the challenge starts because leaders are expected to get results. However, when you’re in the people business… If you are not ultimately able to control how other people react to your leadership. This is where the challenge really starts to get great. This leadership challenge often leaves me feeling like I’m trying to catch the wind!
Here are a couple of leadership insights on how to deal with the challenge of control:
When in charge- take charge
One of the things that was drilled into my head as a sergeant in the US Army is the necessity to take command. “When in charge… Take charge!” is the phrase that was often repeated to me as a leader. I bet I heard this phrase 1,000 times from other leaders in the US Army. I believe these leaders were challenging me to take the responsibility and the authority that goes along with my position of leadership.
Because I had the privilege of serving in special operations units, almost every warrior that I served with had innate leadership abilities. My unit functioned under the assumption that everyone could serve as a leader if the search situation demanded it. This made the necessity to take charge as a leader even greater. Since everyone in the unit had leadership ability, if the person in the leadership position didn’t take charge, certainly others in the unit would. This phrase was not about preventing a mutiny as much as it was designed to give the leader authority to make decisions.
What I can really control
The necessity to take charge was drilled into my head. However, I also learned as a leader that I had no ultimate control over other people. Here is where the leadership challenge really gets hard. When I started to wrestle with the idea of taking charge, I was forced to examine how much I can really control the people who worked for me. Because taking charge was drilled into me, I knew that I had to influence the people that I lead. However, I also realized that I didn’t have the final say on how they responded to my leadership. This was a rude awakening for me.
How is the leader supposed to take charge when they don’t ultimately control the people whom they lead? Have you ever struggled with this question? I watch leaders poorly handled this every day. There are mid-level managers in corporate America who haven’t figured out that they are not ultimately in control of the people that they lead. I can’t tell you the number of parents that I’ve seen try to control their children only to make the situation worse by the way they handle this leadership challenge. Even military commanders, with enormous control over the people in their unit, don’t ultimately decide how someone responds to their leadership. This challenge can be maddening for some leaders.
This caused me to ask a question, If I don’t control other people then what can I control? The answer became immediately obvious, the only person that I ultimately control is myself! I control how I react to difficult leadership challenges. I control how I react to abstinent employees. I control how I react in circumstances that are out of my control. Ultimately, as a leader the only person that I control… Is me!
Who has ultimate control?
I quickly realized that I didn’t have ultimate control over the people that I led. No human being could ultimately control another person- Even chattel slavery didn’t give the master control over his slave. This leadership challenge about control left me looking to the Bible. I started wrestling with the idea of who has ultimate control?
This blog today would be frustrating if I didn’t leave leaders with a bit of help. There is a leader with ultimate control over other people- his name is Jesus! Ephesians 1:20-22 demonstrates that Jesus as ultimate control over everyone and everything! When the Bible says that all things are under his feet, this is the idea of a king sitting on the throne and bathroom is elevated above the kingdom. Everything in the kingdom is below the feet of the king. I referred to him as King Jesus… Because he has ultimate control over me and you and every person that you lead. Therefore, if you want to be a better leader, submit to the authority of King Jesus, and turn control over him. Give him authority over all the things that you really don’t control anyway… your circumstances and your future.
If you’re desperate for King Jesus to take control of your life, you can turn to him in the form of a simple prayer. Pray something like this:
Dear God, I recognize that I am not in control of my life. I believe that my desire to take control is called sin. I also understand that I’m responsible for the mistakes in my own life. However, I believe that you love me so much that you did not leave me in my sin. You sent your son Jesus to pay the penalty for my sin and to offer me the gift of forgiveness. Today I turn from my sin and trust only in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that his death paid the price for my sin and his resurrection provides me the promise of eternal life. From this moment forward I will trust you when life gets difficult. Amen.
If you just made that simple prayer from a sincere heart, I would like to know about it. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.