Creative Leadership

Why You Need to Control the Process

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.

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  1. “By giving up that control, you’re supporting other people’s vision – not yours.” Wow! Going forward, I will use this statement as a measuring stick. My personality leans in the same direction as yours, and I have settled for less in some areas for the same reason. This is a direction changer for me. THANK YOU!

  2. Very true! Tho I have the opposite problem letting go of the process cause of course, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”. But YES, I 100% agree, if it’s your name attached to the project, you better speak up & advocate what you feel is right. Otherwise you’re not only supporting someone else’s vision– you’re letting theirs masquerade as your own.

  3. Hi Phil, I love your blog and I learn a ton. But this post confuses me.

    You seem extremely successful, yet you say you “settled for less.” Ok, what more do you want?

    About “supporting another vision”, is that a problem? 

    I don’t mean to be critical – I’m genuinely interested in your answers.

    I work in Mexico, where culturally people-pleasing is one of the biggest keys to success. So I’m have an interesting time trying to find that balance between taking control and letting go of control.

    1. That’s a great point Stephan – I suspect different cultures view this issue in different ways.  But what “success” is to one person may not be the same for another.  I’m not against being someone who works well with people, but the question becomes – who’s vision are you working for?  If you want to help another person’s vision happen, then that’s great.  I’m all for that.  The only problem with that scenario is if you have a vision of your own and you’re selling that out.  It’s a question of calling.  Are you born to help someone else – or born to fulfill a unique purpose in your own life?

        1. There’s no question that we need great followers to make vision happen, but seeing the state of the world, I’m not worried that we have too many visionary people….

          1. OK I understand better and I agree. Mexico may put more value on relationships than in America, which is good, but initiative and vision are still vital, and Mexico could use a lot more of it.

            Some people are perfectly happy not having “dreams,” but instead being the practical people who make the crazy dreamers’ visions become a reality.

            Me, I have my own big vision. But it’s in incubation while I serve the vision of the ministry I work for – which in fact is developing my leadership. Then one day I’ll be the boss and people will need to incubate their own visions and come under mine.

            Am I following you?

      1. Hi, Phil.

        Since this seems like such an important thing that you wish you would have done, could you please elaborate some more, and/or give some more specific things you would suggest doing?  (Especially, for those of us who are not our own bosses.)

        Thank you,

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