Oswald Letter

The Battle of Control vs. Collaboration

I think it’s a natural tendency for people to want to be in control. In fact, I read the other day that the feeling of a lack of control contributes significantly to a person’s stress level. So, it makes sense that all of us would prefer to be in control. It certainly beats the alternative of being controlled! Right?

The definition of control is, “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” Think about those words for a minute. Let’s start with the first four words of the definition, “the power to influence.” Well, right off the bat, that sounds like less than what most of us think of as control. The “power to influence” seems like a bit of a hedge to me. Control means things are happening exactly as we dictate, nothing less. Well, if you’re only influencing events, then you aren’t dictating them.

Let’s continue with the next four words of the definition, “or direct people’s behavior.” Here we go again. We are directing people’s behavior, but we all know that humans are unpredictable and have minds of their own. Ask any movie director how much control he actually has. Can he influence the actors’ words? Certainly. Can he direct their actions? Yes. But in the end, every actor will play the same role differently — even when being directed by the same individual.

You see, we humans are all distinct and unique. We all respond differently to various situations. That leads me to believe that the true control all of us think we want, and many of us think we achieve, is really impossible to attain.

And that’s why I believe we should all be striving for collaboration instead of control. Collaboration lies at the heart of success. Napoleon said it best, “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Now that sounds like collaboration to me.

Try on for size the definition of collaboration. Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do in a work setting? Don’t we all have to work with others to produce or create something? A business is an organization made up of many people all working toward a common goal.

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” That’s how the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi described it. And, as a coach, he may have directed his player’s actions, but I don’t think he controlled them. He had 11 grown men on the field at any given time. He could influence their behavior but he couldn’t control them. If he could, his players would never have jumped offsides, would never have fumbled the ball, would never have made a mistake.

As a manager, I think it’s much better to think about collaboration than control. Your job as a manager is to get everyone working together to achieve a common goal. It seems to me that collaboration is what leads to success — not control.

Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” It’s your job as a manager to get everyone to move forward together. Sometimes that takes cajoling, sometimes it means giving directives, and other times it means leading so that others can follow. It’s your job to figure out how each individual will respond in a given situation and then, using your influence, get them to move forward as one.

That’s no easy task!

But to achieve success, that’s exactly what it takes. So, I put forward that you, as a manager, should begin by thinking in terms of collaboration instead of control. I don’t believe that true control is actually achievable and attempting to control can be destructive.

We all need to figure out how to foster collaboration in our organizations. To succeed, we must get everyone working together toward a common goal. Don’t look at yourself as a movie director trying to dictate every word and action of the people you manage. Instead consider yourself a conductor of a symphony who must get everyone to work in concert to achieve success. See yourself in front of the players asking for more bass, getting the percussionist to chime in at the right moment and eliciting the very best out of every member of the orchestra without ever speaking a word!

If you can do that there’s no telling what your organization can achieve!