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Stop Controlling People and Try This

11/13/2020
Stop Controlling

What is the difference between leading someone and controlling people?  Does it matter?  Have you given up on leadership when you resort to control?  I can’t influence people, so I choose instead to manage them.  I am going to dissect these concepts to provide you with clarity in the end.

Let’s revisit management 101.  These concepts were born during the era of scientific management.  Frederick Taylor (known as the father of scientific management) was just one of several critical thinkers in managing other humans.  His industrial management system has influenced virtually every country enjoying the benefits of the modern industry.  Planning, organizing, leading, and controlling are the framework for modern management.  Planning is about strategy and goals; organizing is about design and culture, and leadership is about influence and motivation.  Controlling is about systems and processes.  We are going to explore the relationship between leading and managing.

Do you ever think, “If I could control these people, I could guarantee results”?  Controlling humans is an illusion.  You can’t control anyone, including those that report to you.  You cannot control whether your teenager wears a seatbelt when you are not in the car.  Most people struggle with self-control.

When it comes to other humans, we must rely on influence.  We can influence others.  The word influence is the essence of leadership.  Any credible definition of leadership must contain influence.  When we influence others’ behavior, we are leading them.  Some of the most influential leaders in history changed humanity without control. 

The number of people you can influence depends on the size of your platform.  Your platform size is the number of people who know you and your ability to reach those people.  Consider this formula; platform equals network times reach (Platform = Network x Reach).  A larger platform means you can influence more people.

According to Michael Hyatt, there are four ways to grow your influence with others:

  1. Focus on yourself.  “If we could change ourselves,” Gandhi said, “the tendencies in the world would also change. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said, “Save yourself, and you will save a thousand around you.” Modeling is the most potent form of teaching known to man. If you aren’t “walking your talk,” you dramatically lessen your influence.
  2. Take the initiative. Whiners are passive. They sit back and complain. Real leaders don’t have time to play the blame-game. They look for opportunities to take the initiative and take action. Remember, total ownership means it is always your fault as the leader.
  3. Cast the vision. Often people don’t do what we want because we have not invested the time to paint the picture. People want a challenge; to do something significant. They are eager! Your job is to give them a compelling vision of a new reality.
  4. Appreciate the effort. Everyone is a volunteer, including the people who report to you. If you don’t appreciate them, someone else will. People want to give their best effort to those who notice.

It might be easy if the whole world was ready to do our bidding as leaders.  However, that’s not an option, nor is it desirable.  For maximum engagement, we need others to “buy-in” to our ideas and strategies.  Buy-in leads to the discretionary effort, and it derives more success than the required effort.  You pay others for the “required” effort.  They choose to give you “discretionary” effort.

Another way to lead others is to use the nudge theory.  [Nudge Theory is a flexible and modern concept in behavioral sciences to understand how people think, make decisions, and behave. The idea helps people improve thinking and decisions, manage changes, and identify existing influences. Economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein wrote the 2008 book: “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. “  Nudge theory arose in the US in the early 2000s as a radical approach to influencing pensions, savings, and public healthcare. The intention was to improve the quality of society.] On a cost-adjusted basis, the effectiveness of nudges is often more significant than that of traditional control.

Choice architecture (part of nudge theory) alters people’s behavior predictably without forbidding any options changing their economic incentives. Nudges are not mandates. In a cafeteria, putting the fruit at eye level is a nudge. Banning junk food does not count as a nudge.   Embossing a strategic fly etching in public urinals improves aim and minimizes spillage.  Seriously, this has been studied, measured, and verified.

Defaults are a nudge.  They are preset courses of action that take effect if the decision-maker specifies nothing else. This type of nudge works with a human tendency for inaction; people stick with the default choice for many years. If you are like most people, your phone screen remains in the factory default setting when other options are available.  Following are more examples:

  • The decoy effect. Placing something desirable next to something less desirable is a decoy.  For example, a costly menu item next to something you want to sell will nudge someone to make a particular buying decision. 
  • Big bin, little bin. When you make the recycling bin larger than a regular trash bin, people use what is easier first and most often. 
  • Use opt-out instead of opt-in. A country required people to opt-out of organ donations when renewing motor vehicle licenses.   Only 10-15% of people made an effort to opt-out.  Before using this nudge, a binary choice was used, and only 30% decided to opt-in.
  • Social Norms. In the UK, people behind on taxes received a letter with the phrase, “9 of 10 people in your area are up-to-date on tax payments”. Past due tax payments increased by 15%.

While control may seem optimal in business, there are more effective and less costly ways to get the behavior you desire.  Governments and business leaders are attempting to use control to slow the spread of Covid-19.  Mandatory lock-downs and business closures are controls. A practical alternative is more leadership and gentle nudging to get the desired behavior.  Yet, people are predisposed to the illusion of control.  Business frameworks that improve outcomes along with the direction that nudges people are influential.

I grew up raising cattle in Texas.  We fed cattle cubes to the herd (by hand) through the fence or from the bed of a pickup truck on most days.  While also entertaining, it served an essential purpose.  The herd learned the sound of the bag in our hands and would come running.  This allowed us to inspect the cattle while they fed on treats.  There is always a lead cow (female) that determines where the herd goes.  If the cows ever escaped the fencing, the mere sound of the bag made it easy to nudge them back into the desired location.  This method was much easier (and safer) than using horses to control the herd. 

Stop Controlling People
A great blog as always, Mr. Grubbs. I've had nudges that were an attempt to steer me away from the path of the desired result. Always a difficult situation when that comes from upper management. Glad to have those days behind me.
(November 17, 2020 ~ 10:13 AM)
By Anonymous