After speaking to audiences, sometimes during the Q&A, someone will ask me, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?” There are probably many, but here’s one of the biggest: I didn’t control the process. I’m a people pleaser. I want to make everyone happy, and be liked. That’s great when it comes to parties, but a disaster when it comes to a career. The bottom line is that to avoid ruffling feathers, I’ve settled for less than I should have. From directing actors, to managing teams, to writing books – I’ve given in when I should have stood up and fought.
There’s a great story about Steve Job’s reaction when he first saw inventor Dean Kamen’s original version of the Segway: “I think it sucks. It’s shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic… There are design firms out there that could come up with things we’ve never thought of, things that would make you s*** in your pants.”
Not to excuse the profanity, but Steve Jobs was brutally honest, and he understood that controlling the process was the key to Apple being successful. If I could have a “do-over” in my career, I would ruthlessly control the process of everything I got involved in.
Certainly if you’re not the boss, you don’t have total control, but what about the little things that you settle for in your own life? You accept less than the best, you quit when you need to put in a couple of more hours on the project, you settle for less than you should from vendors, or you let an unqualified person take the lead. Even the lowest level employee on the loading dock or mail room can control at least part of the process.
It’s not about being an egomaniac or control freak. It’s about staying true to the vision, and keeping your standards high.
By giving up that control, you’re supporting other people’s vision – not yours.